BY JOE BRISBEN
About 10 years ago, while performing my weekday morning ablutions, I would listen to my friend WSUI’s Al Kern and National Public Radio’s Bob Edwards on Morning Edition. About every other week, Edwards would converse with T.R. Reid, who was then the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo.
Reid would provide scintillating insights into the Japanese culture and personality. Time passed, Edwards left NPR, which discontinued the dialogs with Reid, and I lost track of him.
Penguin has just published a timely book by Reid, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, that explodes five myths about health care in foreign countries.
I suppose it is impossible to summarize a 288-page book on such a complex subject in a 1,000-word column, but, for the sake of enriching the discourse about proposed national health care legislation in the Source, I shall try. Here are the five myths.
1. It is all socialized medicine out there. No, Reid writes. Such countries as Great Britain and Cuba provide health care in government hospitals with government paying the bills. In other countries, Canada, for instance, providers in the private sector give the care that is paid for under their national health systems.
“In some ways, health care is less socialized overseas than in the United States,” Reid writes. Witness Medicaid and the care we provide veterans of the armed forces.
2. Overseas care is rationed through limited choices or long lines. Generally not, according to Reid. In most countries, patients can go to any doctor or have choices of providers. There are no limits like we have in the U.S. and no lists of in-network physicians and pre-authorization forms.
In Canada, Reid acknowledges, some people wait for non-emergency care, but Britain, Germany, and Austria outperform the U.S. when it comes to waiting lines for appointments and elective surgeries.
Waiting lines in Japan are so short that most people do not bother making appointments. “I know from my own reporting in Japan,” Reid asserts, “that people walk into any hospital, and, pronto, they are seen.”
3. Foreign health care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies. Reid writes that all other payment systems are more efficient than that in the U.S. Our health insurers have the highest administrative costs in the world. They spend 20 cents of every dollar for paperwork, marketing, and claims reviews.
Japan is the best nation for controlling costs, Reid asserts, even though its population uses more services than Americans use. Quality is high, and life expectancy and recovery rates for major illnesses are better than in the U.S.
4. Cost control stifles innovation. Reid writes that this assertion is just plain false. While much groundbreaking research is done in the U.S., it also occurs in other countries with much lower cost structures.
Reid points out that hip and knee replacements were developed in France, while in Canada researchers developed deep-brain stimulation to treat depression.
5. Health insurance must be cruel. In the U.S., insurance companies routinely reject applicants with preexisting medical conditions and rescind policies of those who accumulate large and numerous medical bills.
This does not happen in other countries, Reid writes, where all the national insurance schemes must accept everyone and pay all bills that citizens present.
Reid observes the key difference between the U.S. and other countries is that foreign health care plans exist only to pay medical bills and are not in business to make profits.
The most persistent myth of all, Reid writes, is that “America has the finest health care system in the world. We don’t.”
The World Health Organization has compared health care results from all the industrialized nations, and the others have better statistics.
Reid reminds us why we need to inform Americans about how and why America falls short. He offers a template for breaking down health bill complexities, misinformation, and half-truths that keep floating around.
What the situation boils down to, Reid asserts, is a moral question: How can we deny health care for those who have little money and no insurance? More than 700,000 American citizens each year file for bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills.
Let us hope that the U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Six,” who are working to resolve the House of Representative’s version and devise the upper chamber’s proposal, read Reid’s book soon.
Joe Brisben is a financial advisor at BDF Investments, a division of Broker Dealer Financial Services, member of FINRA and SIPC. Hear his commentaries at 11:50 a.m. weekdays on KCCK, 88.3 FM.
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