In Response to: A War’s Legacy

As a physician who served in Vietnam (1970–71), I read with great interest the fine article by Julian Zelizer and would like to add an interesting historical footnote. Some time after his retirement as President Johnson’s secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, I was privileged to meet Wilbur Cohen, once dubbed “the man who built Medicare.” I asked him whether we would ever get universal health care in the United States, to which he replied that he and the president had just such a comprehensive plan waiting to be introduced. Medicare was only the first step.

After a few years they hoped to introduce the second phase, which they even had named “Pedicare,” for those up to the age of 21. The third phase would be a gradual one, over the course of a few years. Congress would slowly lower the age for Medicare eligibility and raise the age for Pedicare eligibility until everyone was covered. I asked why the complete plan never had been implemented, and he replied with one word: “Vietnam.” There was simply no money or political capital left for this important social program. And so Vietnam had claimed another victim, universal health care for all Americans, which we still have not attained almost 50 years later.

Alfred Muller ’62