“Sick Around the World”

“SICK AROUND THE WORLD”….If you’ve been looking for the more serious, more substantive, more balanced version of Michael Moore’s Sicko — and who hasn’t? — you’re in luck. It’s called “Sick Around the World” and it airs tonight on PBS at 9 pm. Jon Cohn reviews it here:

“Sick Around the World” isn’t afraid to talk about the problems in other countries. In England, the film notes, patients frequently wait for elective services; in Germany, physicians are unhappy that they don’t get paid more; in Japan, the government’s hyper-aggressive price controls have led to chronic underfunding. And yet the new film also puts these drawbacks in their rightful context. Every system the film portrays has its problems, but overall each one seems to deliver a better total package than the one in the U.S.

The most interesting case study is probably Taiwan. A few years ago, when Taiwan decided to revamp its health care system, it studied other countries to determine which system might work best. Its conclusion? A single-payer system — one in which the government insures everybody directly — made the most sense.

Virtually alone among health care commentators in the U.S. — a category that includes me — Paul Krugman has been touting Taiwan for a while. The film makes it easy to see why. Today, the people of Taiwan have guaranteed access to health care — and, according to the film, it’s very good health care. There are no chronic waiting lists, like you find in Britain, and the care is very advanced. Among other things, Taiwan is among the world leaders in establishing electronic medical records — an innovation that should significantly improve care by keeping doctors and nurses better informed about patient histories and, no less important, avoiding potentially dangerous drug interactions.

Critics of national healthcare are always able to come up with reasons why the success of systems in other countries doesn’t mean they’d work here. The Japanese are healthier than us. Belgium is smaller than us. Sweden is more homogeneous than us. Germans are more willing to pay higher taxes than us. Etc. Etc. It’s always something.

But the opposite is true too. National healthcare, it turns out, is pretty effective in big countries (Germany, Japan), diverse countries (France, Britain), tax-phobic countries (Switzerland), and countries with health profiles similar to ours (Canada, Britain). And as Jon says, even warts and all, each one seems to deliver a better total package than the jury-rigged, pseudo-private mish-mash that we have here. So tell your skeptic friends to tune in tonight and watch the show. Maybe they’ll start to understand that we can, indeed, do better if we put our minds to it.