Review of The Healing of America by T.R. Reid

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid chronicles his encounter with a range of health care systems across the globe in order to gain perspective on the health care challenges the U.S. faces. As he says in the introduction:

Contrary to conventional American wisdom, most developed countries manage health care without resorting to “socialized medicine.” How do they do it? That’s what this book is about. I set out on a global tour of doctor’s offices and hospitals and health ministries to see how the other industrialized democracies organize health care systems that are universal, affordable, and effective. (p. 3)

His journey takes him through major chapters on France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., Canada, Taiwan, India, and Switzerland, with discussions of lots of other systems sprinkled in and around these main players.

Reid makes no bones about his belief that access to health care should be treated as a right, not a privilege. He’s also clear that he believes the U.S. is on the wrong side of the issue by allowing 45 million Americans to go through life with no practical access to health care, 22,000 of whom die each year because they don’t have access to the health care they need.

All the other developed countries on earth have made a different moral decision. All the other countries like us–that is, wealthy, technologically advanced, industrialized democracies–guarantee medical care to anyone who gets sick. Countries that are just as committed as we are to equal opportunity, individual liberty, and the free market have concluded that everybody has a right to health care–and they provide it. One result is that most rich countries have better national health statistics–longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, better recovery rates from major diseases–than the United States does. Yet all the other rich countries spend far less on health care than [we do]. (p. 3)

So much for Reid’s ideological leanings–how’s the book?

Basically, it’s fantastic, no matter what side of the issues you come down on. In large part, it’s due to the fact that Reid does a great job confining his own take on health care mostly to the opening and closing sections of the book.

For the majority of it, Reid is an engaging, personable observer of the health care systems he encounters. He has a good eye for detail and a knack for portraying characters–of which there are many, many memorable examples.

And Reid grounds this first-person reportage with solid research on the issues…although most of the analysis he cites tends to side with him. One notable exception is in his consideration of the various health care analysis reports that rank health care systems. There he spends time deconstructing the arguments of “one of those defenders of American-style health care,” Dr. Kevin C. Fleming (p.254). Other than this short section of an appendix, however, dissenting voices are mostly absent from Reid’s analysis.

In the end, despite a few shortcomings, The Healing of America shines. Reid is so up front about his opinions that it’s easy for readers to sort out what his ideas are versus the facts about the health care systems he presents. And there’s so much good information about health care around the world, presented so concisely (and at such a great price), that I don’t think you’ll find a better introduction to the subject anywhere.

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