Former MLK doctor advocates ‘single-payer’ health care plan

Ben Rosen

Quentin Young, Martin Luther King Jr.’s doctor when King lived in Chicago in 1966, advocated universal health care should be provided by the federal government in a speech Monday in a class organized by the Alternative Spring Break student group.

In his lecture to the 20 or so Northwestern students in the “U.S. Health Care: Problems, Inconsistencies and Reform” class, Young described his work with King on the Medical Committee on Human Rights, where he helped support people who had been subject to unjust suffering. He also reminisced about his relationship with King.

“I was picked to be his doctor,” said Young, 78. “The problem was he wasn’t very sick.”

Young said King had no “messianic impulse,” describing him as a man who had fears and never believed he was invincible. Although he said he rarely treated King for illness and made only a few house calls, Young recalled treating a wound King received from a rock thrown at him during a civil rights march.

But Young also discussed his own stances on health care during the speech, proposing a plan in which health care would be paid for by wages, taxes and individual people. Called the “single-payer” approach, Young said this idea would be a vast improvement over the current system and help the poor to afford proper health care.

“We’ve come to believe that single payer is not the best solution. It’s the only solution,” he said.

Under Young’s plan, with a slogan of “everybody in, nobody out,” any family of four with an income of less than $100,000 would pay less for insurance. Young didn’t provide exact figures.

Under the current health care plan, most citizens have to pay for their own insurance. On average, health insurance premiums cost $4,000 to $5,000 per family each year. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy is inability to pay for health care, Young said.

But other countries, including Canada and England, have had success after making health care national, Young said.

“We’re in this fix because we’ve failed to emulate other countries in the world,” he said.

Young said many doctors are persuading their children not to enter medical professions because of the problems with the nation’s health care system. In 1960, 86 percent of all doctors were members of the American Medical Association. But in recent years, the number has significantly declined.

“The American doctors have had a substantial change in heart,” he said.

Young also showed his disgust with the growing trend of medicine being based around monetary issues. For-profit hospitals, which didn’t exist until 15 to 20 years ago, now make up half of the available hospitals, he said. Although market economies typically are driven by increasing sales, Young said the health care system actually profits from restricting care.

For example, Young told a story about a patient who needed Viagra. Young requested six orders but received a fax needing more information, such as if the patient had diabetes or other diseases.

He called the supplier back.

“I’m talking about a readily treatable disease. Could I talk to someone? A human?” he said.