I’ve never read a book like this before. Historically, the non-fiction books I’ve read have been about a person, places, a period of time. But this is the first time I’ve read such an in depth study of a particular policy. In case you missed it, “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” by T.R. Reid is a examination of our health care system in contrast to others around the world. And it was fascinating.
“Economic growth is not the sole aim of out society… The value of a human life must be decided without regard to… economic considerations. We must take into account the human and spiritual aspects involved.” The Hall Report, 1964
There are a few things I know for certain: our health care system is broken, there are too many Americans without access to health care, our country’s approach to health care is far too politically leaning when it should be a moral issue. But besides that, my knowledge was fairly limited. This book put context and statistics behind the facts. Although we can agree that our system is broken, I feel like the general public has limited exposure to the ideas of what a “fixed” system could look like. But this book changes the game. Starting with all the ways in which our system is broken. Here are just a few of the things that I learned:
- We’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee all our citizens access to health care.
- We spend the MOST in the developed world on our health care system (17% of our GDP).
- We’re ranked 37th by the World Health Organization in health care quality and access.
- We’re the only developed nation that would limit, or revoke, access to health care based on the fact that you actually need care (ahem, pre-existing conditions).
- We run the truest form of socialized medicine in our Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and Indian Health Service health care systems.
- 45 million Americans are uninsured.
- Our physicians pay upwards of ten times what physicians in other countries pay in malpractice insurance.
- While our physicians can come into the workforce with somewhere around $200,000 in debt, the physicians in most other developed countries have their education paid for.
- Because of how efficient the health insurance programs are in other countries—they spend a lot less time coming up with reasons to deny claims—their administrative costs are somewhere around 3-5% whereas the U.S. agencies spend around 20%. So for every $100 you spend on health insurance $20 goes to administrative efforts.
- I could go on (and on) but I’ll stop here.
All of the flaws listed above have been fixed in ALL other developed countries. Sure, the cost of the health care systems in these countries is high, but they still spend less that the United States. And sure they save a lot of money by regulating the compensation of doctors and nurses (which is a problem yet to be solved). However, those men and women are debt free, spend a TON less in administrative costs (in France they don’t even need filing cabinets because all patient information is accessed via an encoded chip on the patient’s “Carte Vitale”), and spend barely anything on malpractice insurance. So, when you think about it, it’s kind of like a cost of living difference. So even though there are some kinks, I still think cost of universal health care is WELL worth the risks.
“The Beveridge Model of health care has been adopted, with variations, by nations around the world, democracies and dictatorships alike. A system in which government owns the hospitals, pays the doctors, buys the medicine, and covers all the bills would probably come pretty close to what American politicians have in mind when they deplore ‘socialized medicine.’ But American, too, has copied the NHS model—to provide treatment for tens of millions of Native Americans, military personnel, dependents, and veterans. With government doctors in government clinics dispensing government drugs (and no bills for the patients to pay), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the purest examples anywhere of the Beveridge Model at work. If this is un-American, why did we choose it for America’s military veterans?”
But back to the book. I think you’ve already gathered that the amount of information it holds is staggering, useful, and fascinating. But beyond that, Reid writes from very personal experiences. He’s lived, worked, and used the health care services in all the countries he studies (UK, Germany, Japan, India, Canada, US, France). He shares his stories and conversations with real doctors, and real patients. In these real world scenarios it becomes even more astounding how the United States, with its claims of liberty and justice for all, can still be a country that limits its peoples access to health care. To me it all comes back to issues of racism, sexism, and ageism, but that’s another issue for another day.
You should read this book. Sure, it’s a little repetitive at times. But even if it’s just a chapter every once in awhile. Even if it’s just chapters 2, 3, and 13 (good summaries / big picture chapters). Even if you totally disagree with everything I’ve said up to now, read it. “The Healing of America” is a fascinating study of the modern system that is health care. But if you do nothing else, just ask yourself this question: is health care a human right?