A worldly view of health care

By Kevin McDonough

United Feature Syndicate

"Frontline: Sick Around the World" (8 p.m., PBS) looks at the healthcare debate from a different perspective. Correspondent T.R. Reid travels to five nations that spend a far smaller percentage of national wealth on healthcare yet insure everyone. How do they make it work? What can we learn or avoid from their systems?

Reid travels first to the United Kingdom, home to a national healthcare system since the end of World War II. Reid is surprised that this most socialized of systems has introduced market mechanisms to make doctors and hospitals compete and have reduced the waiting times for elective procedures.

He then travels to Japan and Germany, thriving market-driven economies much like our own, where the government mandates universal-health coverage and requires each citizen to pay for health insurance. And while health insurance companies and pharmaceutical costs are tightly controlled by the state, both Japan and Germany have robust industries dedicated to medical technology and drugs.


Reid visits Taiwan and Switzerland, two nations that adopted universal-healthcare systems within the past two decades. During that country’s debate, many of Switzerland’s drug and insurance companies lobbied against reform. But now, most Swiss consider universal healthcare to be a basic right and a symbol of a civilized society. And their insurance and drug companies are financially healthy.

The Taiwanese government established a committee to study healthcare systems around the world and pick and choose aspects that suited them best. When Reid asked the Taiwanese about the system in the United States, they respectfully observed, "You don’t have a system, you have a market."

Scrupulously polite and low-key, Reid asks experts in each country how many of their citizens went bankrupt last year due to medical expenses, as more than 700,000 Americans do each year. In each country, the experts look puzzled and say, "Nobody." A Japanese expert observed that such an event would be considered "a national disgrace."

Which brings us back to our healthcare policy. Reid concludes that all of the systems have their faults and all differ to a degree. But all the nations have one thing in common: They have channeled the political will to put the well-being of their citizens first and to control the "freedom" of insurance and drug companies to make huge profits at the expense of everyone else.

Reid is too nice to say it, but our current system would not just be considered flawed in these other countries; it would be considered criminal.

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Late night


Kelsey Grammer and Rogue Wave appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) … Jay Leno hosts Brad Garrett, John Melendez and Ingrid Michaelson on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) … America Ferrera and Apocalyptica appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).

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