Richard Milhous Nixon, whose career combined the disgrace of Watergate and noted accomplishments in foreign policy, also left a legacy in national healthcare policy.
Former President Nixon died April 22 in 1,370-bed New York Hospital within days of suffering a massive stroke and slipping into a coma. He was 81.
As the nation's 37th chief executive, Mr. Nixon was a healthcare envoy, attempting to institute significant healthcare reforms during his first term, from 1969 to 1973. But analysts' views of his impact are mixed.
"(Mr.) Nixon's legacy on healthcare is tremendous," said Jerome Brazda, of Washington-based Brazda Healthcare Information, who consults, edits and writes for healthcare publications, including MODERN HEALTHCARE. "He tried cost containment, and it did work for a while."
Other analysts gave Mr. Nixon credit for his attempts, but disagreed about their impact on healthcare. Some analysts said Mr. Nixon's 90-day freeze of wages and prices in 1971 was short-lived and a disaster for some areas of healthcare.
"(The freezes) did little to hold downcosts and led to an explosion of costs when they were lifted," William Custer, an economist at the Employee Benefits Research Institute, told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in a September 1993 interview. "One thing price controls did was to depress wages of hospital workers, especially nurses. One of the consequences of that was a nursing shortage in the 1980s."
Mr. Nixon's efforts, although not all successful, bring to mind many similarities to the healthcare reform plan proposed by President Clinton last year.
"When you look back on what he tried, many liberals today are saying, `Richard Nixon, where are you now when we need you?'*" Mr. Brazda said.
Today, Mr. Nixon would be considered progressive on healthcare. In 1973, he signed the Health Maintenance Organization Act into law, which required employers to offer federally qualified HMOs if the HMOs proposed a health plan to the company. The act set the framework for establishing expanded managed-care plans.
In 1974, Congress established a network of federal agencies to control health costs. During that year, more than 20 health insurance bills were introduced in Congress, but none passed.
As a private citizen, Mr. Nixon was an honorary co-chairman of the National Leadership Commission on Health Care, which proposed a healthcare plan in 1989 that sought guaranteed basic medical services.