If you had any doubt about how bad the American health care system really is, let’s examine the case of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman. This case hits especially close to home because Dr. Lederman retired to and died in rural Idaho.
Lederman was a co-discoverer of the muon neutrino, a sub-atomic particle predicted by Standard Model of physics but extremely difficult to detect. He was the director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago from 1978 to 1989, and received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1988 for his work on the muon neutrino. A brilliant, immensely talented and highly successful physicist.
He was also an excellent science popularizer. He was the one who named the Higgs Boson “the God Particle” and wrote the popular physics book of the same name. He had considerable success on the talk show circuit as well, with a self-deprecating, humorous style that played very well.
Lederman used a portion of his Nobel Prize money to build a vacation cabin outside of Driggs, Idaho, looking at the west side of the Teton Mountains. He retired there full time just before his 90th birthday. A few years later, he was diagnosed with dementia. To pay for respite care, he and his wife sold his Nobel medal. It’s not like there are a lot of Nobel Medals for physics. Since 1901, just 112, in fact.
Let WC say that again: to pay for his medical care, this distinguished physicist, past director of America’s pre-eminent theoretical physics lab, past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and World War II veteran had to sell his Nobel medal.
How screwed up is that? How disgusting is it that in America you have to sell the highest award in your profession to manage the expenses of your health in your old age?
Yes, he got a good price, $765,000, but why isn’t there outrage?
And if Lederman had to sell his Nobel medal, what are the rest of us supposed to do? WC can’t speak for his readers, but WC doesn’t have any medals lying around with a street value of more than three-quarters of a million bucks.
On a related note, did you see the Forbes article noting America is no longer a first choice for the very best physicists?
More proof, if you needed it, that the American health care system is seriously screwed up.