March 19, 2010


(Joseph Califano - Two Years in the hotseat and a pink slip for the trouble)

(This is a repost from last November - even in March, it still applies)

During the early days of the Carter Administration Joseph Califano was appointed Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. By all accounts it was a strained relationship which eventually led to his firing in 1979. From 1977 until 1979 he was the center of several controversies, including the banning of Saccharine, Affirmative Action and quotas in the College system, the Medicare/Abortion issue, a National Health Insurance proposal, smoking and even the 1977 outbreak of Swine Flu (yes, there was Swine flu even then). Califano was not handed softballs, to be sure. As these two exchanges from a 1977 appearances on Meet The Press will attest:

Carol Simpson (NBC News): “Mister Secretary, the Swine flu mass immunization program was a disaster from start to finish, and I have a two part question: first of all, to find out whether your agency, given the same information as was given the agency a year ago, would have embarked on such a program? And secondly, what are you going to do now that the American people have really become frightened by mass immunization programs and what are you going to do if we have a similar vaccine in the future that might be necessary to be given to the people?”

Joseph Califano: “Miss Simpson, I am not prepared to say what I would have done had I been in the government a year ago. It is not clear to me in what ways different decisions would have been made. I intend to look at that thoroughly and carefully as I think that kind of public health decision is difficult as the Secretary has to make. The greatest damage the Swine flu program has done, aside from the human tragedy of the individuals paralyzed and killed has been the impact on immunization programs, particularly for children. There are sixteen million children in this country under the age of fourteen who have not been immunized against Polio, and a large part of that is attributable to the peoples fear about immunization programs. We’ve got to restore confidence . The first step we’ve taken is to open up the entire process for selecting the vaccines for next year. We’ve done that and we haven’t made the selections yet, but every fact that’s relevant to that will be available to the public. We also intend to have a substantial stepped up program of education for children and parents in the immunization area , and to try and get the children of this nation immunized.”

Nancy Hicks (New York Times): “President Carter campaigned on a promise to bring National Health Insurance to the American people. Does this still have a high priority, and if so when might we expect a legislative draft?”

Califano: “This has a very high priority. I regard the Social Security issue, the welfare reform issue, the American family issue and National Health Insurance is four central Presidential priorities for me. We would expect to have legislation before Congress next year in this area. I will be working with and recommending a program during this year.”

Hicks: “Beginning of the year or end of the year?”

Califano: “I don’t know whether it will be the beginning or the end of the year. If President Carter continues the way he’s going on other programs it will be the sooner the better, and closer to the beginning of the year than the end of the year.”

Needless to say, 1977 was not the year of Universal Health Care. Nor was 1978 or 1979 for that matter.

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