News and Tribune


May 13, 2013

HOWEY: The shrewd Doc Bowen and the issue of our time



Senate Finance Chairman Larry Borst would later observe, “When you think about it, if Bowen had lost as Speaker, he probably never would have become governor, or secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and our history would have been different, all over one vote.”

In his autobiography “Doc: Memories of a Life in Public Service,” Bowen would call it his “defining moment.” He would lose to Bulen-backed Secretary of State Edgar Whitcomb for governor in 1968, and decided at the convention podium to run again in 1972.

Bowen would go on to forge property tax reforms, create a statewide medical air transport system, pass medical tort reform and complete much of Indiana’s Interstate system.

In 1986, President Reagan made him the first medical doctor to serve as HHS secretary. He immediately pushed for catastrophic health insurance, first for the full population, and finally the elderly. When he found opposition from Attorney General Edwin Meese, Bowen became a “pitbull” and released his plan to the press.

Reagan would sign the Bowen plan after it was resoundingly passed by both houses in 1988. But after Reagan left office in 1989, poll support plummeted and a fearful Congress repealed it the next year. Bowen observed that President George H.W. Bush refused to defend the program. “Our lack of action is a damning indictment on our humanity and our political will,” Bowen observed. That would set in motion two decades of some of the most divisive politics over Hillarycare and Obamacare.

As Doc Bowen was taking his final, shallow breaths last Saturday, the Sunday editions of the New York Times were pounding off the presses. Included was a column by conservative writer Ross Douthat, who uncovered a 1970s era RAND Corporation study that found “that more expensive health insurance doesn't necessarily lead to better health.” 

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