Healthy reading

I’ve been reading a remarkable book and would dare label it essential reading for anyone who wants to feel a little more informed when it comes to the ongoing discussion about health care. You know, sometimes it’s cool when you’re opining away at some mixer/party/confab to actually know what the hell you’re talking about. So if you’d like a more global perspective on health care so that you may more clearly see why the United States rates somewhere between pathetic and pitiful in this arena, read The Healing of America by T.R. Reid.

The theme is simple. Reid has a bum shoulder and decides to take it to various countries to see how doctors in those systems would treat it and how that treatment would be paid for. Let me confirm what you might suspect. Countries like France, Germany, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom all have health care systems that should make us envious. Indeed, Reid reports, more than once he encountered open smugness from healthcare pros and patients alike in those countries, people who couldn’t help but feel smug because they know that the system in their country clearly and absolutely kicks America’s ass up and down the block. I recently dined with six folks—a couple from Canada, a couple from Australia, and a couple from New Zealand. As we talked about health care and the current debate raging in the United States, the smugness factor emitted by each member of that sextet was palpable. As in, “You poor, dumbass hillbilly. What the hell is wrong with you people?” A fair question.

While we squabble ourselves into limbo, now not even able to pass a complex, pisspoor limpdick package filled with prostituted compromise, inspect these items from Reid’s book: In France, each citizen has what is called the Carte Vitale, or Vital Card, a credit card upon which is digitally encrypted the patient’s entire medical record, including financials, going back 10 years. In Germany, your co-pay is $13 every three months. Once you pay that, all medical attention thereafter is free. In Japan, there is no waiting for service, no rationing, and a broad array of patient choice, all delivered at low and explicitly listed prices. In the U.K., most folks go their entire lives without ever paying a doctor bill. In Britain, this is considered normal. In Canada, yes, waiting for service is a problem these days. But when the wait is over, there is no charge.

Another sobering stat in Reid’s book deals with people going bankrupt due to medical problems. In the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Canada combined, there are exactly zero. Because it’s illegal. In our country, there are 700,000 every year. Because here, those are the breaks. More next week from Mr. Reid.