The Healing of America by T.R. Reid
Picked this book up because I wanted to learn for myself the truth about the U.S.’s healthcare system in comparison to other countries’. I think it’s the American thing to do to strongly defend everything that makes us uniquely American, but on this one thing, we must learn to humbly admit that our healthcare system sucks. The one thing that differentiates us from every other healthcare system is that we have decided to commoditize healthcare. It is a good/service that can be bought. The wealthy can get the best kind of healthcare while the poor are simply too poor to buy it. Professor William Hsiao, a Harvard Health Economist, who has helped shape many a country’s health care system from scratch (for example Taiwan’s) says this about a country’s stance on their health care system.
“Before you can set up a health care system for any country, you have to know that country’s basic ethical values. The first question is: Do people in your country have a right to health care? If the people believe that medical care is a basic right, you design a system that means anybody who is sick can see a doctor. If a society considers medical care to be an economic commodity, then you set up a system that distributes health care based on the ability to pay. And then the poor, pretty much, are left out.”
However, many argue that it is our capitalist health care system that makes our health care system the most innovative with the most number of specialists and top-notch medical centers. That may be true, but these accolades look pathetic and ironic next to the following statistics.
- Even though the U.S. one of the highest neonatal intensive care capacities (6.1 neonatologists per 10,000 live births), U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rate among developed nations.
- In 2010, almost 50 million Americans (1 out of 6 Americans) were uninsured.
- U.S. is ranked 15th in the list of countries that do the best/worst to treat “avoidable mortality”
- Average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77.85 years. Sounds good but we come in 47th just ahead of Cyprus and a little behind Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- More importantly, in the DALE (disability-adjusted life expectancy) which measures how long we can expect to live before we start deteriorating, we are not even in the top 10. We are #24 at 70 years. That put the U.S. just behind Israel and just ahead of Cyprus. Below almost all the other developed nations.
- The U.S. is the only developed country where people go bankrupt because of health costs (~700k people annually)
- We are the only developed country that lets for-profit insurance companies and medical centers control the price, quality, choice, and coverage. This guarantees that long-term investments (preventive care) is not a priority and that the people who need insurance the most are not covered.
“Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you’re an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries.” - Christopher Murray, Dr & Health Economist Harvard
One of the most interesting insights Reid had was that Americans aren’t cold, heartless people who believe that only the rich should get health insurance. It’s that most people don’t realize the sheer number of people who are uninsured or under-insured. We also believe that holding onto this idea of “capitalism” is more important than the overall health of our country. If you want to talk about socialized healthcare, then not covering a low-income family, and making the city cover their emergency room costs if an emergency occurs is actually more socialized than the healthcare systems in so-called socialist Germany, France, UK, Singapore, and Taiwan.
Obamacare was a great first step to getting more people insured. It made it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It increased the net for Medicaid. It requires those in finance to contribute to Medicaid/Medicare (yes, those hedge fund managers and traders weren’t paying before). It requires small businesses (49 employees or more) to provide health insurance (along with a tax credit of course). A lot more, but you should read it for yourself!
Anyways, this was a great read. I would definitely recommend it to everyone who wants to learn more about the topic.