The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

If you’re a legislator, or work for one, or are married to one, or the child of one, set the very readable The Healing of America on her desk. If a legislator is your relative or neighbor or pal or golf buddy, even a friend-of-friend, make sure he gets this book.

If you yourself happen to be a member of the US Congress, send an aide out pronto to buy The Healing of America for you. It might just save your political career. Which would save for you and your loved ones membership in a healthcare system few Americans can afford: that of the US Congress.

T. R. Reid, the book’s author, visits other countries to explore how they do healthcare. Most of the nations he sees resemble the US in many respects (wealthy, industrialized, democratic, free-market, etc.), but he finds, to no one’s surprise by now, that their citizens receive better healthcare, and more effective healthcare, at a far lower cost than in the US.

I’ll repeat that: better product for a lower price.

If it were a plasma TV, you’d go for it in a New York minute.

Reid first explores the four basic models of healthcare delivery, explaining each: Bismarck (found in Germany, France, Switzerland and Japan); Beveridge (Great Britain, Italy, Hong Kong, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs); National Health Insurance (Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, and US Medicare); and the Out-of-Pocket Model, with the worst national outcomes for the highest prices (Cambodia, Egypt, Burkina Faso . . . and one-quarter of US citizens).

As a well-traveled correspondent, Reid and his family had already experienced healthcare and its costs in far-flung places, but this time he goes with specific curiosity and a detailed presenting complaint: an ailing shoulder. His American physician has recommended costly major surgery, with its attendant risks of paralysis and death. What Reid finds in other places is a systemic, built-in readiness to suggest alternative treatments to help the shoulder without surgery.

Each country’s health system, he finds, is based on a national concept of the country itself. Canadians view themselves as fair – so no one gets preferential treatment, and lines may be long. That doesn’t mean that Canadians are uniformly content to wait. Yet they are astonished to hear of the 700,000 people per year in the US whose bankruptcies are medical-bill based. In Canada, as in Germany, France and Japan, that number is zero. No Canadian (German, Frenchman, Japanese) goes bankrupt because of medical treatment.

Reid dedicated his book to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who when Supreme Commander in World War II found the wide German autobahns sped his troops faster than anticipated, ending the war in Europe months earlier than planned, and with fewer casualties. Eisenhower brought this design to the US, creating our interstate system. Today, we may complain about commutes and suburbs, but consider where the US would be if its coast-to-coast roads were still two-lane.

To objections and whinges that the US is somehow different in terms of its healthcare needs, that it cannot borrow ideas from its more socialist allies, that origins matter, Reid points to Eisenhower (a Republican), who saw a superlative road system and took it on, despite the fact that the autobahns’ designers were . . . Nazis.

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