Cells in the Body Politic: Physicians, Social Medicine, and Public Health in Peronist Argentina

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 4:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon D (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Jonathan D. Hagood , Hope College, Holland, MI
Existing models for understanding the development of nationalized (or “socialized”) medicine emphasize the resistance of health care professionals and/or the private health care sector. In either case, the prevailing “free-market” argument stresses a particularly economic perspective on the health care sector of the case study in question. Using a variety of medical journals, periodicals, and union publications, this paper takes a different approach when examining national public health plans put forward in Peronist Argentina during the 1940s-50s.       

Although medical professionals strongly supported a nationalized health care system, Perón’s universal health care proposals withered in the face of organized labor’s strong preference for union-run health plans and medical facilities. In addition, mutual aid societies, provincial and municipal governments, and physicians’ unions also built and staffed their own facilities. As a result, comprehensive plans for a national hospital infrastructure staffed by federally-employed medical professionals failed because the strength of Argentine society and, by extension, its health care sector lay in a cellular organization. That is, members of Argentine society obtained medical care through sub-national identities based upon provincial and municipal citizenship, ethnically-based mutual aid societies, labor unions, and regional professional organizations – the very groups that successfully constructed medical facilities in 1940s-50s Argentina. Although this argument clearly offers an alternative, non-economic explanation for certain instances of the failure to adopt universal health care plans, it also provides much-needed nuance to our understanding of Argentine society under Peronism in particular and mid-twentieth-century Latin American societies in general.

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