President Nixon spoke on his plan for an administrative and legislative initiative to improve health care in the nation. The quantity and quality of doctors, access to health care, and sufficient numbers of hospital beds were among the government’s greatest concerns. President Nixon stressed his belief, and that of Secretary Finch and soon-to-be Assistant Secretary Dr. Egeberg, that the health care system at the time was much worse than the nation had expected and that unless actions were taken to fix the problems in the next few years, there would be a breakdown in the country’s medical care system, effectively hurting millions of people nationwide.
Two years later, Nixon proposed a major health insurance program to Congress, seeking to guarantee adequate financing of health care on a nationwide basis. The proposal generated much heated debate, but no legislation reached the President’s desk. Three years later, in 1974, the average cost of heath care had risen by more than 20 percent, making it inevitable that Americans face staggering bills when they receive medical help.
- The average cost of a day of hospital care exceeded $110 ($600 today)
- The average cost of delivering a baby and providing postnatal care approaches $1,000 ($5,400 today)
- The average cost of health care for terminal cancer exceeded $20,000 ($110,000 today)
Aside from escalating costs, President Nixon noted two other major problems with the health care system of the time. First, it was apparent that, although more Americans carried health insurance than ever before, the tens of millions of people who remained uninsured were often those who desperately needed it most.
Second, Americans’ health insurance plans often lacked coverage that was balanced, comprehensive, and fully protective. To note but one flaw, Nixon stated, “Fewer than half of our citizens under 65 – and almost none over 65 – have major medical coverage which pays for the cost of catastrophic illness.”
President Nixon then proposed the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). This plan attempted to offer every American the opportunity to obtain a balanced and comprehensive range of health insurance benefits without costing more than he could afford to pay. Also it was designed to build on and merge the existing public and private system of health financing while requiring no new Federal taxes.
Photo: Courtesy of Life Magazine. Caption: Vice President Richard M. Nixon speaking at AMA (American Medical Association) conference.