Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

Medical reform Subjects (1)
New topic 2019-05-24 20:49:32 description

Meeting of the Minds

Senator Harris Wofford

and I should be in conflict. He seems like a charming person I might like for a friend or a dinner companion; so far as I know, neither of us bears any ill will. Nevertheless, the strange circumstances of the Clinton Health Plan pushed the two of us forward to explain or debate its merits in adversary battle and attack each other. In fact, Wofford had no particular interest or experience in the topic of health insurance, while I was uncertain just where the proposal intended to go. In retrospect, everyone can see that at the moment we were in debate, the plan didn't exist even in the broadest outline, and eventually never did develop into anything definable, even after it had been defeated in Congress.

Bill Clinton

Nevertheless, President Clinton had appointed his wife to lead a commission to refine what was supposed to be Wofford's proposal to give everyone healthcare; Wofford was expected to get out in public and promote it. One form this took was to have debates with organized Medicine, and somehow I got picked to oppose him in two debates, one at Haverford College later at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Since Senator Wofford had once been president of Bryn Mawr, Haverford's sister college, the audience was presumed to be somewhat favorable to him. However, I had ties to the two colleges, too. In fact, my older daughter was a student at Bryn Mawr when Wofford was president. It's likely I remember better than he does the time when he called me up. As he introduced himself, my first thought was, "Ye Gods, whatever has she done?" Nothing. It turned out he was calling my wife, a Bryn Mawr alumna, for a fundraising committee.

Haverford College

It would be interesting to hear from some of the Haverford students in that audience, just what their expectations had been. Presumably, they wanted to see a famous Senator in person, and perhaps they were looking for the amusement of gladiator combat. No doubt, the main founder of the Peace Corps would appeal to their sense of fairness and willingness to sacrifice for the common good. And no doubt they expected a representative of Medical Societies to attack the complexities and unworkability of some government scheme. But I could expect them to be disappointed in his description of the plan because there was no plan. And, looking out at that audience of college students who chose to attend an optional evening program of information, I surmised that many or most of them were pre-medical students. They were looking to me to help them decide whether they were making a good career choice. How should they comport themselves, if thrust into my position? It is, in short, hard to say who won this friendly debate, but I doubt if I lost. As demonstrated by Ho Chi Minh, George Washington, and Osama be Laden -- you win by not losing.

And one more thing emerged. If members of Congress knew nothing about this topic, and members of the medical profession were bewildered about what the proposal was -- who did know what it was all about?

Originally published: Friday, July 06, 2007; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 23, 2019