Major Surgery Indicated

On September 11, 2010, some three thousand Americans were killed by terrorists; our country has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But that same year, and every year since then, some twenty thousand Americans died because they couldn’t get health care.

That’s from the opening chapter of “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, And Fairer Health Care,” T.R. Reid’s eye-opening and eminently readable account of his study of the health care systems in France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and Canada (with stops along the way in India, Switzerland, Taiwan, and even Cuba). Reid shows that in every developed nation except the U.S., the decision about a health care system begins with a moral question: Does every person have an equal right to health care when they need it? Every developed nation except the U.S. has answered “yes.” Among developed nations, only the United States has a system in which insurers answer to shareholders and so, in order to increase profits, deny or refuse coverage.

Now, don’t go thinking this is a knee-jerk liberal, leftist, socialist rant; it most decidedly is not. It’s a measured, well-researched, thoughtful look at how we might heal a system that is unwell: bloated, expensive, inefficient, unfair, drowning in paperwork. And as Reid discovers during his odyssey through numerous countries’ systems, much of what Americans believe about other countries’ systems is just wrong. Contrary to what we might think, it’s our own system, with its for-profit insurers, that has “the highest administrative costs in the world. This is a major reason why we spend more for health care-and get less in return-than any other developed country.” [emphasis added]

“The Healing of America” explains in clear language the four basic systems (and their variations) used to deliver health care in the wealthier nations. It looks at what doctors earn in different countries. It considers the issue of malpractice insurance. Paperwork. Patient records. Cultural attitudes and practices. The reasons preventive care is cost effective in other systems, but not in ours (not for insurers, that is). There’s even an appendix explaining the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some of what Reid discovers may astonish you; it sure did me.

Reid understands that we might not want to “ditch our own . . .system and replace it wholesale” with another country’s system. He acknowledges that in “the education and training of doctors, nurses, technicians, and so on, and [in] our state-of-the-art medical research. . . America leads the world.” Nevertheless, “there are useful approaches, ideas, and techniques we could learn from health care systems that are fairer, cheaper, and more effective than ours.”

My global quest made it clear that the other wealthy democracies can show us how to build a decent health care system-if that’s what we want. T.R. Reid

This is key. If that’s what we want. If Americans demanded a change to our system, if we could clear away the misinformation, the red tape, the confusion, the fear of the unknown and, yes, the propaganda, we might realize that we could have a system that provides health care for everybody, at lower cost, and with improvement to the overall health of the nation.

Look, I don’t care much about preaching to the converted (although while I’ve long been a proponent of health care reform, I’m now far more knowledgable than I was); still, if you’re in favor of reform, I recommend this book. To those who aren’t sure about a health care overhaul, or are against one, I ask you to please read “The Healing of America.” Just read it, please, and if after that you still think we don’t need reform, well, then, okay.

If you’re convinced that we need reform, but you know someone who isn’t, give them a copy of the book. You can find it on Ebay for less than $10. If enough of us come to realize that equality in healthcare is morally right and achievable, and we make that clear to our elected officials, we can realize it. “The Healing of America” shows us how.

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