A Review of Frontline’s “Sick Around the World”

Recently, Professor Gabriel Popescu from IUSB’s Political Science Department reviewed an in-depth report done by PBS’s Frontline called “Sick Across The World.” The program focuses on world healthcare systems, how they compare to that of the US, and what we can learn from them.  We asked Prof. Popescu to provide his comments on the series as part of our continuing healthcare series.

Sick Around the World

Overall, Prof. Popescu found the study to be a balanced evaluation of the various healthcare systems:

The video is very balanced in trying to explain how all these societies that are different, yet comparable to us as far as income and broad democratic values and goals are concerned, hove found ways to address healthcare issues.

The United States has a healthcare system unlike anywhere else in the world — and that’s not necessarily a positive thing:

What emerges from there is that nowhere, no other society, has left the issue of healthcare to be regulated like ours. Nowhere are the insurance companies/businesses allowed to play such a disproportionate role in shaping the system, for reasons obvious to most people – their interests are exclusively linked to profit making and not to providing, or at least investing, in healthcare.

As we’ve found in our examination of international healthcare systems, single payer systems are fairly common, and in many places the government is heavily involved in the administration and oversight of the programs. This seems to be a successful way to approach medical care.

One other important point is that the single payer system is generally the most successful, however, even where there is no single payer system, like in Germany or Japan, the healthcare system is regulated and monitored so closely that it comes close to a single payer model.

The benefits for these [other] societies are also pretty clear and positive, as even though every single system has its pitfalls, these dwarf the benefits for the people they are aimed to serve. I think this is a strong point, that these systems put the people first and costs second – in other words, their chief goal is to protect and serve the citizens and then [address] the issue of how large or small the resources are.

In summary, Prof. Popescu has some pretty severe criticisms of the U.S. healthcare system as compared to how other countries handle the issue of medical care for its citizens.

I guess the most important theoretical point is that this world healthcare tour shows that is inexcusably stupid to approach healthcare in business terms. This is not an economic issue only, that is why the role of the government, or any other powerful regulatory agency that looks over the common interests of the members of society, has to play the central role in the design of healthcare systems. The so called “free market” approach cannot work in healthcare by default since its purpose is not to include people but to exclude. In other words, survival of the fittest type logic, as market economics would have it, can hardly be reconciled to the social logic of healthcare.

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