Ben Franklin's ties to health care

Ben Franklin

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: We are in the City of Brotherly Love this week to address a topic we all love to hate and hate to love: Health care. The passage this year of a massive health reform bill generated some love, some hate -- and a lot of confusion. All the reforms won't kick in 'til 2014, but changes are already underway and will affect your wallets and bank accounts. You're probably seeing them right now because of open enrollment season. So we'll address a few of them this hour and on our website
with our Consumers Guide to Health Care.

Why Philly? A whole lot of medical history has been made here. The first hospital. The first medical school. They invented Tylenol here.

Gregory Warner: Ben Franklin!

Vigeland: Marketplace's health care reporter Gregory Warner joining us.

Warner: Hi Tess.

Vigeland: Your newest obsession here. Aren't we going to hear from you later in the show?

Warner: But I wanted to stop by, because I have this great surprise for you about Ben Franklin.

Vigeland: Ooooh, I like surprises.

Warner: O.K. So, picture Ben Franklin: How does he look?

Vigeland: You know, he's got the white hair, the spectacles. A portly gentleman.

Warner: A little tubby, right?

Vigeland: Tubby, sure.

Warner: O.K., so I was talking to Roy Goodman, the head librarian over at the Philosophical Society. It's got the largest collection of Franklin archives in the world. Here's how he described him:

Roy Goodman: Well, he had muscles. He was no flabby dude.

Goodman chuckles

Vigeland: I think that's the first time I've heard Franklin referred to as a "dude." Then why do we think of him as so big?

Warner: Well, when he got older, he got fat. But for most of his life, Franklin was eating lean. He ate local foods, lots of veggies, worked out with dumbbells...

Vigeland: O.K., Gregory, let me interrupt your reverie here. Can we get to the money part of all this?

Warner: Sure. O.K., so it starts with Franklin being a printer, right?

Vigeland: Right.

Warner: And let's just cue some sound effects here.

Vigeland: I like sound effects.

Sound of a print press

Warner: O.K., so I recorded this a few blocks away, actually, at the Franklin Print Shop. You hear that old press going? Now, imagine, 1700s -- what's coming out of those presses? A lot of popular health literature, titles like "Every Man His Own Doctor" or "The Art of Preserving Health." And then the almanacs, full of health tips and herbal remedies.

Vigeland: Right.

Warner: Here's Goodman again:

Goodman: The Franklin "Poor Richard Almanac" circulated in editions of 10,000 a year. That's an incredible amount. So some people have called his network the "Internet of the 18th century."

Warner: So this would've been then the WebMD.

Goodman: Yeah, in a way. Yeah, because where would you get health care information? This was something for everyone. Obviously, every man was his own doctor.

Warner: Health care for all.

Goodman: Health care for all.

Vigeland: But actually, Gregory, I mean, are we talking health care information for all, right?

Warner: Right. And that gets us to the money.

Vigeland: Ah, finally. Go on.

Warner: Well, that story starts with Franklin's friend, John Bartram. He was this Philadelphia farmer who loved plants. Used to travel all around the colonies, digging up new medicinal herbs that he could bring back to Philadelphia. But Bartram wasn't just collecting plants too look at them; he wanted to create a market. And it would go like this: Bartram would find it. Franklin would publish something about it, and then readers would go seek it out.

Goodman: In a sense, when Franklin's advertising this medicine, isn't he starting up a new industry? You know, a new industry in plants?

Vigeland: Let me guess, that would be the pharmaceutical industry?

Warner: Or as Franklin would've called it, "economic botany."

Vigeland: "Economic botany." All right.

Warner: And it all starts with keeping that patient informed. Because if people don't know what's out there for their health, they don't know what to buy.

Vigeland: Yeah, so you have an informed patient, then you have a potential customer.

Warner: Exactly.

Vigeland: Alright, well Gregory, I think we really are going to say good-bye to you for now. But you're going to be back a bit later with another chapter of, what are we calling this series?

Warner: "Philadelphia's Lesser Known Historical Contributions to the Business of Health Care."

Vigeland: That would be a short title?

Warner: That's what I got.

Vigeland: All right, thanks.

Warner: Thanks.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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