Over and over in The Healing Of America: A Global Quest For Better, Cheaper, And Fairer Health Care, journalist T.R. Reid repeats the same rhetorical question: “Does a wealthy country have an ethical obligation to provide access to health care for everybody?” For Reid, the answer is obviously yes. His other refrain: If America has the greatest health insurance in the world, why does no other first-world country model its system on ours? Answering those questions, Reid has written an unabashed, invaluable pro-health-care-reform book. Its timing is suspiciously apt, but it’s no quick cash-in volume. Well-researched and concisely argued, it makes an excellent case for health-care reform as primarily a moral rather than an economic imperative, but Reid has the numbers too, and they’re equally compelling.

Reid begins with the standard notion that any kind of public health care is a slippery slope to the communist takeover of America. He neatly fillets it in two parts—pointing out how many countries with supposedly “socialized” medicine have private insurers and/or doctors, and that the widely praised Department Of Veterans Affairs is pure socialized medicine in action. Having neatly dispatched the buzzword that shuts down any rational discussion, Reid gets busy, visiting other countries to see their weaknesses and strengths in action. The U.S. spends more of its gross domestic product on health care than any other country (some 15%), and gets less in return. Why do other nations spend less and get more? The basic answer is the same in France, the UK, Japan, Germany, and Canada: If insurance companies aren’t allowed to pick and choose their clients solely for profitability, a whole layer of administrative bureaucracy (and costs) is eliminated. If everyone has to have insurance, enough people are pooled together to contribute revenue—whether through taxes, premiums, or co-pays—to cover the plan’s expenses.


Reid’s survey of health care around the world is scrupulous in annotating flaws—e.g. Canada’s long waits for specialists for non-emergency care—and makes it implicitly clear that any health-care reform will almost inevitably cut down on the amount of money American doctors make. (It’ll cut down significantly on their malpractice insurance as well, but never mind.) Which is why Reid ultimately frames his argument in moral terms: Yes, reform could cut our health-care spending, but what’s the moral cost of not doing so? Regardless, this is an invaluable primer, talking points for anti-dittoheads.