Neither of the country’s main political parties has a plan to dramatically lower healthcare costs and extend medical services to all of the needy. The author, a physician who practices medicine in New Jersey, has such a plan.
Whatever happened to Healthcare? Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, a hospital in central New Jersey, recently closed its doors after 130 years of operation. Though this seemingly equated to a failure in private provision of healthcare, this actually represented a colossal failure of government, as mandates coupled with inadequate funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and “charity care” left this hospital with an apparently unsolvable dilemma: It could not pay its bills.
How did we get there? Muhlenberg’s website explained that the hospital emerged from the efforts of seven volunteers who were deeply touched by a local train accident in 1876. After a physician had to perform surgery by candlelight at a nearby freight house, these individuals set out to build a community hospital. They raised funds from their neighbors, friends, and philanthropists who cared about the well-being of area families. The government had nothing to do with it, except to make things as easy as possible for these good people to succeed in their mission.
In the 1950s, the future looked bright. Unemployment was as low as two percent, and most families had private insurance. Hospitals were full of volunteers, providing training for medical and nursing students. Communities held fundraisers, and hospitals were major recipients of private charity. The poor were cared for, as physicians donated their time in hospital-based clinics.
City and county hospitals were built, set up by local governments. Outpatient visits to charity facilities rose some 310 percent from 1944 to 1965. Each indigent patient typically was charged $5 for a visit, the community rallied, and expenses were met. Once their economic lot improved, the poor were happy to transition out of the public hospitals, as there were fewer amenities than existed in the private hospitals. Public hospitals were clean, though not luxurious.
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