Otis Bowen Dies At Nursing Home In Indiana

Otis R. Bowen, a small-town doctor who served two terms as governor of Indiana, dies at a nursing home in Donaldson, Indiana. He was 95.

He believed his greatest accomplishment at HHS was engineering the first major expansion of Medicare, a 1988 bill providing coverage to the elderly for catastrophic illnesses. The provision was repealed by Congress a year later.

He may have had more long-term success in confronting one of the most serious health problems of the 1980s, the fast-growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS. Along with his deputy, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who died in February, Dr. Bowen led public education efforts about HIV/AIDS and sent pamphlets about how to avoid contracting the virus to more than 100 million households nationwide.

A comment by Dr. Bowen at a news conference in 1987 became an oft-repeated statement in the medical struggle against HIV/AIDS: “Remember, when a person has sex, they’re not just having it with that partner, they’re having it with everybody that partner had it with for the past 10 years.”
Otis Ray Bowen was born Feb. 26, 1918, near Rochester, Ind. His father was a teacher.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Indiana University in 1939, Dr. Bowen graduated from the university’s medical school in 1942. He served in the Army Medical Corps in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, he set up a family practice in Bremen, a small town in northern Indiana. He once sent a questionnaire to his patients asking whether they wanted to be informed if they had cancer or — as was often the practice at the time — kept in the dark. Much to his surprise, 96 percent said they wanted to know the truth.

Dr. Bowen was elected county coroner in 1952, then was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1956. Two years later, he lost a reelection bid by four votes, but he was returned to office in 1960.

Dr. Bowen was considered an effective legislator and eventually became speaker of the Indiana House despite being, by his own admission, a soporific speechmaker.

“The only way to stay awake through an Otis Bowen speech,” Dr. Bowen once said, “is to give it.”

He was elected governor in 1972. Four years later, after approval of a state constitutional amendment allowing governors to serve more than one term, he became the first Indiana governor in more than a century to be reelected.

He led efforts to improve state parks, establish a statewide system of emergency medical care and limit property-tax increases. He also helped quell labor unrest — sometimes by calling out the National Guard. But his signature achievement as governor drew from his experience as a doctor who had delivered more than 3,000 babies.

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