Medical Payments in the 1800s

Today, after spending a couple hours researching which Medicare plan I want to enroll in for 2014, I started wondering how doctors were paid in the 1800s.

That’s actually a question I’ve always wondered as whenever I see a movie or read a story set in the 1800s, even poor people are quick to call for the doctor when someone is ill without any discussion of if they could afford it. Obviously this was before insurance programs had been set up, so how was it that even poor people could afford medical care? 

The answer to my question is that doctors of the 1800s were usually paid in-kind. The patient’s family would trade goods or services for the medical care he provided. 

I’m still mulling this over, but I’m curious what you think. Could this kind of system work in today’s society?


About Lori Futcher

Freelance writer and copyeditor
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One Response to Medical Payments in the 1800s

  1. yourbusybee says:

    I would LOVE it if that could work now, but our society is no longer as agrarian and the services many of us could trade in kind aren’t needed by everyone. For example, I might be one of 30 patients the doc has that builds websites. But doc only needs one. How do the rest of us pay him? Ok, I know we all have other things and services we can provide, but it’s just not practical. I’ve so often wished it was though. SO often!

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