This is how Fred Hodder puts it:

"Medic Alert doesn't save lives.

"Doctors save lives.

"Medic Alert just makes it easier."

It's the time of year when this 24-year-old organization makes it annual pitch -- not for funds, but for new members . . . members, says Medic Alert president Fred Hodder, who are among the estimated one out of five Americans with hidden health problems. And these days the problems range from penicillin allergy, the single most recurrent medical condition among members, to contact lenses. Yes, got it, contact lenses.

About 5 per cent of the people who wear contact lenses -- Hodder says there are 9 million of the formerly four-eyed -- cannot wear the lenses for extended periods, sometimes no longer even than three or four hours, without doing harm to the cornea.

Say, Hodder hypothesizes, you wear contacts and you're in an accident and you're unconscious for a couple of days and nobody notices the contacts . . .

For that matter, say you're a diabetic mistaken for a drunk.

Or fatally allergic to penicillin and too sick to say so.

Or you take medicine that might interract fatally with something else.

Or any of the above and you're addicted to jogging and you don't carry a wallet when you do . . .

Medic Alert can be the answer.

Many Americans agreed that this was so from the program's start in 1956, but even more have jumped aboard since the American Hospital Association did a survey about five years ago and concluded that wallet cards with medical information were something less than useful.

In the first place, many states forbid emergency personnel or police from rummaging in wallets beyond checking driving permits. Moreover, women, especially, often are separated from purses and wallets in an accident. So although Medic Alert does provide an annually updated wallet card, its principal advantage is what Hodder calls the "alerting device." The bracelet or medallion has specific medical problems engraved in up to five lines, along with a toll-free number to Medic Alert's central files where additional details, along with name and phone of physician and closest relative, can be provided within seconds.

Medic Alert was started in 1953 because Linda Collins cut her hand cranking the lever action of a BB gun. She was then 13 and had the presence of mind to run over to the hospital in Turlock which had been founded by her grandfather. She was given a routine scratch test to see if she was sensitive to the horse serum base of the tetanus anti-toxin serum. She was so sensitive that just the scratch test sent her into a three-day-long coma. She was a burgeoning amateur athlete so when she went off to one or another golf tournament, her parents loaded her pockets and bags with notes explaining her potentially fatal sensitivity. When she went to college, her father, also a doctor, designed the first Medic Alert emblem (which she wore until the Smithsonian asked for it a few years ago and now has on display).

Oddly enough, says Hodder -- although really not so odd at that -- of the 7,000 new members Medic Alert gets each month, most "of the new members are between the ages of 19 to 23. We believe that parallels the original story: the concern of a family when a young person leaves home."

The cost of joining Medic Alert is a lifetime fee of $15 plus $4 each time the information is revised. Membership information may be obtained by writing to Medic Alert, P.O. Box 1009, Turlock, Calif. 95380.