Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman

By Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

7
Eisenhower and the American Medical Association: A Coalition Against the Elderly

Sheri I. David

During the eight years that Dwight David Eisenhower was President, his administration witnessed a domestic crisis over the ability of the elderly to acquire and pay for adequate medical care. In response, a coalition of congressional leaders, with labor and former Social Security Administration officials, organized a legislative effort to provide a national health insurance program for those over sixty-five years of age. Eisenhower's response to this effort was determined in part by his personal attitudes toward welfare and security as well as his trust in private, voluntary organizations to find effective solutions to a crisis. Eisenhower's response was also shaped by his commitment to the American Medical Association (AMA) to which he looked for leadership and ideas. When the AMA failed to rally to the President's aid, Eisenhower failed to look elsewhere for a better approach. 1

There were several reasons why a focus on the health care problems of the elderly was appropriate during Eisenhower's administration. First, the numbers alone were impressive. As against 3 million American citizens over sixty-five in 1900, there were 14 million by 1957, a growth rate of approximately three times that of the rest of the population. Moreover, the trend of the 1950s was toward a lowering of the retirement age and toward formalizing it at sixty-five. 2 Furthermore, older people were visibly left out of advances made for the rest of the population. During the 1950s, labor unions made significant gains at the collective bargaining table in obtaining health insurance for their workers. Retired employees, however, were not usually included in the new contracts. Employees found that on retirement their policies were automatically canceled, or canceled at their first illness. If by some chance they could keep their insurance, they found their premiums unaffordable. Given their age, they could not qualify for a new

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