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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(12):2003

Newsletter (also known as the “yellow sheet”) is AFP’s longest-running department. In the very first issue of General Practitioner (April 1950), the publication that later became American Family Physician, the Newsletter promised “hot news” about “significant developments on the social, economic, or political scenes of the medical world.”

Besides chronicling the latest controversies in the medical field, Newsletter recorded the ongoing evolution of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the profession of family medicine. Readers then and now have liked the combination, as indicated by the department’s positive ratings on various reader satisfaction surveys.

In those early issues, socialized medicine emerged as a hot-button topic. The Newsletter documented the fight over a “compulsory sickness insurance” plan advocated by President Harry S. Truman and Federal Security Agency Administrator Oscar Ewing. Academy Treasurer Dr. U.R. Bryner took a fact-finding trip to England and reported that, under socialized medicine there, the average gross income for a general practitioner was about $5,000. (AFP, May 1950).

In July 1956, the Newsletter boasted of the Academy’s new headquarters (“30,000 square feet of floor space, a full basement, and a sub-basement” and “off-street parking for 40 cars”). In political news, it predicted that Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson would try to “ram through” a cash disability benefit for Social Security recipients. The Newsletter stated: “1956 may be remembered as medicine’s darkest year to date … Bills have been passed that during the Roosevelt-Truman regime would have been regarded as much too radical.” (AFP, August 1956) When President Eisenhower declined a veto, Newsletter sounded a caution: “Look for laborites, welfarites and the morally indigent to renew their national compulsory health insurance campaign.”

By January 1965, Johnson had been elected President by a landslide, and the Newsletter warned that “Medicare looms on the horizon.” It reported on last-minute health care alternatives put forth by the American Medical Association (AMA) and other groups, and bemoaned the fact that opponents of Medicare had based their objections, not on “dollars and cents” issues, but on medical grounds, which “are probably of little interest to the ill, injured, indigent and infirm.” (AFP, February 1965) Later that spring, the topic threatened to dominate the 17th Annual Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of General Practice (AAGP). The event drew 6,489 registrants to San Francisco, Calif., where attendees braved “daily downpours” and the Congress of Delegates voted to form a general practice certifying board.

By midsummer, the issue was decided. Newsletter called it “a tawdry display of political power” when President Johnson traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to sign the Medicare bill “in the shadow of the Academy’s headquarters.” Furious opponents called for nonparticipation, but the AMA and the Academy voted to comply with the new law. “It is to the everlasting credit of organized medicine,” the Newsletter stated, “… that physicians will have a voice in related policies and procedures and that the nation has not yet been saddled with an all-out socialized medicine scheme.” (AFP, August 1965) One year later, the department led with the news that “the nation’s still-new Medicare program has already cost the taxpayer almost $500 million.”

In 1966, the Academy’s Congress of Delegates staked out the term “family physician” and urged state chapters to consider renaming the AAGP as the AAFP. (AFP, November 1966) It was not until 1970 that the name change became official; the first issue ofAFP was published in January 1970. The Newsletter in that issue reported on federal health survey funds going to “left-of-center student health activists” who used them to stage protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Ill. Perhaps in a bow to the times, the Newsletter was printed on a pink/brown paper rather than yellow paper. Starting in January 1971, Newsletter was back to the familiar yellow sheet.

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