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Physician Influence on Federal Health Spending, 1950s

The 1950s was a time of unprecedented technological advances in the science of medical care.  In 1955, epidemiologists at the University of Michigan developed a polio vaccine.  These advances lead the federal government to increase funding for research.  Between 1955 and 1960, Congress increased the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from $81 million to $400 million.  Physicians did not support increased funding for all aspects of medical care, particularly those what would increase competition.

More money for research met no objections from the AMA.  However, the story of aid to medical education was different, and it is worth recalling the contrast.  In 1949 Congress was close to approving a five-year program of grants and scholarships for medical schools to increase the nation’s supply of physicians.  A bill had passed the Senate and was reported out of House committee when it hit a small snag.  Yet it seemed likely to pass the next year.  The House of Delegates of the AMA approved the measure in December 1949.  However, two months later, concerned about setting dangerous precedents, the AMA board reversed its position, and the bill died in Congress.  Despite wide support from other groups, aid to medical education was blocked throughout the 1950s.”

Although physicians did not support more funds for medical education, medical schools grew tremendously during this period.

The infusion of money into research and training programs created new opportunities in–and for–medical schools.  During the 1940s, the average income of medical schools tripled form $500,000 to $1.5 million a year; by 1958-59 the average schools income was up to $3.7 million and ten year later to $15 million.”  Medical schools became sprawling, complex organizations that now saw their missions as three-fold: research, education, and patient care (usually in that order).

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