Medical Tuesday Blog

In Search Of A New Health Care Model: The Healing Of America

May 29

Written by: Del Meyer
05/29/2017 1:16 PM 

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

Marin Medicine – The magazine of the Marin Medical Society          

TR Reid, 304 pages, Penguin (2010).

Peter Bretan, MD

The United States spends the largest proportion of GNP (17%) for health care of any country in the world, without providing universal health care. The percentages of GNP for countries that do provide universal care include France (11%), Switzerland (10.8%), Germany (10.4%), Canada (10.1%), UK (8.4%), and Japan (8.1%). Japan spends $3,400 per capita on health care vs. $7,400 for the U.S. . . .

Why is our health care so inefficient and fragmented? More importantly, will we fix it before it collapses? In his book The Healing of America, TR Reid proposes that we cannot begin to answer any of these vital questions unless we know what kind of health care system we have. . . In a[n] attempt to do so, Reid explores health care systems throughout the world to compare government oversight (degree of regulation and support), payer mix, cost efficiencies and many other factors that may elucidate possible solutions to our dysfunctional health care system.

Reid’s contemporary classic is a must-read for all Americans, as health care is now at the forefront of American politics. An inevitable collapse from the growing cost of care will affect everyone. As health care professionals, our patients depend on us for health care policy guidance. Unless all physicians understand basic health care structures, we cannot begin to save our health care system.

In The Healing of America, Reid—a well-known reporter, lecturer and documentary filmmaker—describes four distinct health care systems: the German Bismarck model, the UK’s Beveridge model, Canada’s national health insurance model, and the out-of-pocket model.

The Bismarck model was started by Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany, in 1883. Today health insurance in Germany is provided through employers for 82 million citizens and millions of guest workers, both legal and illegal. There are 180 insurance companies, whose income is supplemented by a 15% income tax specifically for health care. Medical education is free. Medical malpractice premiums are less than $1,400 per year, but physician specialists make less than half as much as their American counterparts. Costs are rising and sustainability is questionable. The Japanese and Taiwanese health care systems are similar but less costly because they have more rigid cost controls via a single national fee schedule, at the expense of physicians and hospitals. All these countries have an individual mandate and are happy with their health care.

The UK’s Beveridge model covers 90% of the population via a national 17.5% sales tax and is administered via their National Health Service. The model is single payer and truly socialized. Cuba has a similar system. Primary care physicians are the gatekeepers for most care; pay-for-performance bonuses can double their income. Medical education is free, but certain procedures and tests are only used for high-risk patients. Many cancer drugs are just not covered.

Canada’s national health insurance model began in Saskatchewan in 1946 and spread nationally, culminating in the Medical Care Act, unofficially known as Medicare. The United States later copied this system and name for American citizens 65 and older. The man most responsible for the Canadian system was their national hero, Tommy Douglas, who waited years to get a common orthopedic procedure performed under the old system. The new system covers basic care for everyone and is equally available to both rich and poor. This egalitarian pride sustains the system, but long wait times for elective procedures are common.

In the out-of-pocket model, the rich get medical care, while the poor stay sick and/or die. Most poor countries use this model, including China, which is moving back to out-of-pocket care. In the United States, 20,000 out-of-pocket poor people die annually from easily preventable or treatable diseases.

The United States uses all four of these models. We have Medicare like the Canadians for our elderly population. We have government-run, UK type of care from our veterans and for certain diseases, such as end-stage renal disease. We have multiple insurers, but these companies are not regulated to the same extent as in countries with a Bismarck model. Finally, we have an out-of-pocket model for 23 to 40 million Americans, all of whom suffer from a lack of access to care. This uncoordinated and fragmented health care system has led to inefficient, overlapping care for those with health care coverage, and to no care for millions without any coverage.

The United States is the only developed country in the world with for-profit health care insurers. In single-payer countries, such as Canada and the UK, these companies simply do not exist. In multipayer countries—such as France, Germany, Japan and Taiwan—the insurance companies are all nonprofit, charitable organizations, and are all government regulated and highly efficient, without the enormous bureaucracy found in the United States. Reid makes a compelling argument that “You can’t allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance.”

Reid acknowledges that for those with money to pay for basic health insurance, American medical treatment is the best on the planet. Many Americans, however, go without insurance. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, 45 million Americans (15% of the population) were without any medical insurance. After the ACA is fully implemented, an estimated 23 million Americans (8% of the population) will still be without insurance. These patients constitute a high proportion of the 700,000 Americans who go bankrupt each year from out-of-pocket costs.

Despite our country’s enormous spending on health care, our infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world at 6.37 per 1,000 births, compared to 2.76 for Japan and 5.0 for the UK. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th in the world in overall health indexes. Much of the low rating is caused by lack of access to care.

Reid dispels many myths about foreign health care. He refutes untrue statements, made by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and others, that European health care could not work in the U.S. because the Europeans severely ration all care. He also debunks claims that the World Health Organization data is too liberal and that countries listed as more efficient by WHO criteria are all “socialized” in their health care. Reid explains that this is simply not true, pointing out that Japan has more for-profit hospitals than the U.S . . .

This book review is found at .

ED: We had to do a cross check to make sure this wasn’t Harry Reid. This book is out dated and the reviewer is biased. When we go to international meetings, we do not find the physicians from afore mention countries happy with her government regulated or socialize programs. Breton states that Reid dispels many myths about the WHO being too liberal. But we have not found anyone that would even consider going to Columbia, as I recall, for heart surgery which is ranked above the United States. I’m sure this reviewer wouldn’t either.  Breton does get the wait times essentially correct. But he highlights the wrong orthopedic procedure. The orthopedic patient wait that went to the Canadian Supreme court was the ruling that determined that Canadians did not have access to health care. They only had access to a waiting list. That certainly turns everything on its head that Canadian Medicare delivers good healthcare. Prejudices hardly ever die. They don’t even fade away after all these years. Some of these don’t even fade away before the history books are written.

Canadian Medicare does not give timely access to healthcare, it only gives access to a waiting list.

–Canadian Supreme Court Decision 2005 SCC 35, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 791

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