The Healing of America

Do people have a right to health care?

healing-of-americaAccording to The Healing of America by T. R. Reid, that is the first question a country needs to ask when designing its health care system. Every industrialized country — except the United States — has answered yes.

The Healing of America, published in 2009, was recommended to me by my mom. Although it was written before the ObamaCare health care reform was signed into law, the ideas presented in the book are still very relevant.

America’s health care system ranked 37th overall (just behind Costa Rica and above Slovenia) according to the World Health Organization’s World Health Report 2000, even though it was first for expenditure. The United States, the richest nation on earth, may have the best doctors and researchers, but we are far behind other developed countries in most other measures.

Obviously, there is a problem with our current health care system.

To figure out how to improve America’s health care system, Reid researched the health care systems of other countries like France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India, to see what was working (and what wasn’t) in those countries.

In several industrialized countries, for example, citizens have an electronic card that contains their medical and billing records, providing doctors with a patient’s full medical history with the swipe of a card. Billing is also done electronically, which both speeds up the process and significantly reduces administrative costs.

I also liked that in most countries, medical costs were known up front. In America, prices are shrouded in mystery, unknown by both the patient and the doctor, due to our confusing insurance system and cost shifting practices.

The most significant differences, though, were that in every other developed country in the world:

  • It is unheard of for citizens to go bankrupt because of medical bills.
  • Basic health insurance must be nonprofit.
  • There is universal coverage for all of its citizens.

Reid also debunked some common American myths about foreign health care systems, including:

  • Myth: “It’s all socialized medicine out there”
  • Myth: “They ration care with waiting lists and limited choice”
  • Myth: “They are wasteful systems run by bloated bureaucracies”
  • Myth: “Health insurance companies have to be cruel”
  • Myth: “Those systems are too foreign to work in the USA”

Fixing our broken health system is not going to be easy and no health system is perfect, but I think we can learn a lot from what other countries have done. Reid doesn’t provide a solution to our health care crisis in The Healing of America, but he does bring up a lot of things to think about.

The first step is answering that basic question: do people have a right to health care?