At the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we tend to be a little behind the times with our TV viewing. Jay and I just watched Frontline’s “Sick Around The World” – sort of like how we watched and reviewed Sicko months after everyone else. Lots of bloggers have already reviewed the Frontline program, which is actually how we heard about it in the first place.
Frontline’s TR Reid has put together a very compelling documentary. He traveled to several rich, industrialized countries to see how they run their health care systems, and to see what lessons we Americans could learn from them. The first two countries – Great Britain and Japan – are places that Reid and his family have lived, so he has experienced their health care systems first hand. He also looked at the health care in Taiwan, Germany, and Switzerland. All of these countries have better health statistics than the US (things like life expectancy and infant mortality), and all spend less on health care than we do. While each country has a unique approach to health care – no two on the program are alike – it’s interesting to note the ways that they are all different from the US. One of the people Reid interviewed – I believe it was in Taiwan – pointed out that the US doesn’t really have a health care “system.” Instead, he said, the US has a health care market. The state of health care in the US is what happens when you don’t set up any sort of system, and just leave the market to its own devices. I thought this was a particularly astute observation, and one that we probably don’t think about as much as we should. In each of the other countries, even though their systems are all very different, they have some sort of a unified system in order to ensure that all citizens have access to health care and will not go bankrupt to get it.
In addition, I noticed that in each of the countries that Reid visited, there is no such thing as for-profit health insurance. Some countries have private health insurance, and some have private health care providers. Others have state-run insurance and state-owned hospitals. But none of them have the sort of health insurance industry that we have in the US, with publicly owned health insurance companies selling stock on Wall Street. I doubt that the US will ever set up a system like they have in the UK, with a government-run health insurance program and government-owned hospitals. But a system with non-profit private health insurance would put us far closer to actually being able to provide affordable health insurance – and access to health care – for all Americans.