Comparative health policy is a fun field. In fact, it’s how I got my start, exploring access and quality issues in the United States and Sweden. I had a blast. Not only did I learn a lot, but I even got to go to Sweden on a trip paid for by a grant from the University of Georgia’s CURO program. Who can blame me for wanting to keep doing that?
Well, T.R. Reid did me one better by traveling all around the world and learning about the health care systems in other countries in a most novel way: He played the role of a patient. He’s written a just-published book about his experiences titled The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care and has a bit of a plug in last Sunday’s Washington Post that provides some of his key findings.
What I found especially interesting was his comment–I can’t remember where I came across it–that said, we don’t actually have to look any farther than America to see how things are done in the rest of the world. We have a private employer-based system that pretty much mirrors the Bismarckian system of sickness funds used in Germany. We have a large single-payer system, Medicare, that works nearly identically to the systems used in Canada and many other countries. We have a government owned and operated system, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, that provides care to our military men and women in much the same way as the British National Health Service. And, finally, we have a sizable uninsured population, whose people do the best they can to get care, but many of whom die prematurely because they can’t get what they need. That’s the same as the health care system of the third world according to Reid.
For those of you who are interested, Reid was recently interviewed by PBS and the Kaiser Family Foundation: