Posted on April 1, 2008

Dr. Quentin Young, a Chicago legend, to retire


Phil Kadner
Southtown Star
April 1, 2008

His patients have included Martin Luther King Jr., Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and members of the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial, but after 61 years in private practice, Dr. Quentin Young is hanging up his stethoscope.

Young, a physician in Chicago’s Hyde Park community who from 1972-81 was chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cook County Hospital, was King’s doctor during the civil rights leader’s ill-fated stay in Chicago.

He was with him when King was hit in the head with a rock while marching through Gage Park and also visited King in his Chicago home when he came down with a respiratory infection.

“I stretched a 15-minute visit for a cold into an all-afternoon affair just so I could talk to the man,” Young recalled. “It was a unique opportunity.”

I have done the same whenever I’ve had the chance to talk to Young, a liberal renegade who has lived by the credo: “If the majority agrees with you, you are probably in the wrong.”

Young, for the first time in his 20-year fight for national health insurance, finds himself in the majority.

A survey to be published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical journal, indicates that a majority of U.S. physicians (59 percent) support national health insurance, 32 percent oppose it, and 9 percent are neutral.

The findings, according to a news release, reflect a 10-percentage-point increase in physician support for national health insurance since 2002, when a similar survey was conducted.

Surveys were randomly mailed to 5,000 doctors, and 2,103 were returned.

Psychiatrists (83 percent), pediatric subspecialists (71 percent), emergency medicine physicians (69 percent) and general pediatricians (65 percent) seemed to be the most enthusiastic about national health insurance, while those practicing radiology (30 percent) and anesthesiology (38 percent) registered the lowest amount of support for such a program.

Young, 84, is a founding member of the Chicago-based Physicians for a National Health Program and believes the results signify an important shift in the public debate.

“People trust their doctors,” Young said. “If their doctor tells them that national health insurance is not a good thing, they tend to believe that’s probably true. If their doctor now starts saying it is something that would be good for the country, then average people will be more likely to support it.”

The survey, conducted by researchers at Indiana University, is being touted as the largest ever among doctors on the issue of health care financing reform.

An estimated 47 million Americans have no health insurance, and another 50 million are believed to be underinsured.

At the same time, health insurance costs are rising at a rate of about 7 percent a year, twice the rate of inflation.

Employers are struggling to pay health insurance premiums for their employees, often reducing coverage or asking workers to pick up more of the cost.

Local governments, such as Cook County and the state of Illinois, find themselves cutting other costs to meet the public’s health care needs.

The amount of money budgeted for Medicaid in Illinois is now larger than the amount of money budgeted for public education, although about half of that cost is picked up by the federal government.

Young contends that while other industrialized countries control medical costs through single-payer universal health care plans, the profiteers here (primarily health insurance companies) continue to drive up costs. Because their primary motive is to make money, not to provide the best health care for patients, insurers’ decisions often are detrimental to policyholders.

Yet many Americans still believe health care here is better than anyplace else in the world. But they seem to be living in denial, ignoring the fact that health care here is not going to remain as it is.

Costs will continue to rise. Employers, facing a potential recession, are going to have to cut their costs.

Health insurance companies will continue to make a profit through higher premiums and by taking control of patient treatment out of the hands of family doctors.

Young, who is giving up his medical practice, will devote all of his energies to reforming health care.

“I tell people that I will refuse to die until there is national health care,” he laughed.

Phil Kadner can be reached at or (708) 633-6787.