When a Lifetime of Health Care Cost Just $1,700

Dialogue With Life, a documentary from the late fifties or early sixties sponsored by the Medical Society of the State of New York, looks at advances in medical technology and the corresponding rise in health insurance in the mid-20th century. This excerpt, courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, looks back at medicine 1931 -- a time when hardly anyone had health insurance and diseases like pneumonia were deadly. 

The narrator gives an overview of how much health care cost at the time, and the numbers are fascinating:

Statistics said lifespan: 59 years. Two to one, he was born at home. Cost to parents: $50. Cost of medical equipment: $87.50 -- including the black bag. In his lifetime, a total of $1700 for health care, mostly out of his own pocket. It was a new idea then, insurance to help pay hospital bills, but practically nobody had it ...

Health care, like everything, else didn't cost much. $2 for a house call, $11 for a hospital room. Unfortunately pneumonia was common, and often fatal. Infectious diseases were epidemic, a hospital was where you went to die, and the cost of health care was a dreaded as the disease itself.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator, $1,700 in 1931 would be worth $25,655.68 in 2012.

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://archive.org/details/prelinger.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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