BOOK REVIEW: ‘The New Health Age’: Futurists Take on America’s Creaking Health Care System

  • Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
  • BOOK REVIEW: 'The New Health Age': Futurists Take on America's Creaking Health Care System
In the revelation of any truth, there are three stages. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second, it is resisted, and in the third it is considered self-evident.” — Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted in “The New Health Age”

* * *

I’m very skeptical of futurists — unless they’re named George Orwell!

Many of the concepts he wrote about in “Animal Farm” and especially “Nineteen Eighty-Four” have come true, unfortunately. The Bush administration’s so-called Patriot Act and similar efforts by the Obama administration bring to my mind the dictatorial rulers and torturers of “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” I’m old enough to remember reading first hand the predictions  in magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics— two magazines I devoured — about flying cars in every suburban garage. Thank God that didn’t come to pass!

I think the same fate is in store for predictions on radical health care changes made by authors David Houle and Jonathan Fleece in their new book “The New Health Age: The Future of Health Care in America” (Sourcebooks, 368 pages, notes, but unfortunately, NO INDEX,  $19.99).

Houle and Fleece say we  live in a transformational time in the history of medicine and health care and that the current century will be a “time of dramatic change, incredible breakthroughs, and totally altered thinking about health, medicine, and health care delivery.” I beg to disagree; I think our fragmented health care system is one reason why we rank so low on the World Health Organization’s ranking of systems. Believe it or not, France is No. 1 and we’re a miserable No. 37, despite spending a heckuva lot more on health care. (link:www.who.int/healthinfo/paper30.pdf)

We don’t even have computerized health care cards like the French do. My Medicare card is a piece of flimsy cardboard, unlike the French “smart”card — called the “carte vitale” — which is encoded with the holder’s health care information, making diagnoses much easier when there’s an emergency. T. R. Reid references this card in a book I reviewed on this site: “The Healing of America” (link: archives.huntingtonnews.net…/091016-kinchen-columnsbookreview) where he traveled the world examining health care in several countries.

Newsweek  referenced Reid’s outstanding book — I recommend it without reservation — in a February 2010 article, which I found on the Daily Beast site:

“When veteran foreign correspondent T. R. Reid set out to write about France’s health-care system for his recently published book, what impressed him most was not the country’s universal coverage. Nor was it the system’s low prices and wide-ranging benefits. Instead, as he explains in The Healing of America, the defining element of the French health-care system is a small green card that each patient carries: the carte vitale. The plastic credit card carries all the essentials of health care: medical records, insurance information, prescriptions, and reimbursements. It is used to check in, identify the patient, and provide the doctor with a complete background on the patient. “For me,” Reid explains, “the carte vitale … became a symbol of what the French have achieved in designing a health-care system to treat the nation’s 61 million residents.” In fact, the only picture that Reid includes in his 277-page book is one of the carte vitale.

Quoting from my 2009 review of Reid’s book — which I once again recommend to everybody:

“Washington Post correspondent Reid traveled to about a dozen countries in his quest to fix his aching right shoulder and — more importantly — to find out which system would work to fix our ragged, patchwork quilt health care delivery system. “The numbers tell the story: All the other developed industrial nations spend far less on health care than the U.S., which spends a whopping 15.3 percent of its GDP on health care (in 2005…it’s closer to 17 percent now) and have greater longevity, lower infant mortality and better recovery rates from major diseases than Americans, Reid says, and backs up these statements with statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies.” 

Despite the above caveats, I recommend the book by Houle and Fleece — and T.R. Reid’s book. They both are well written and contain many sensible solutions that would make us rank higher than 37th in the world. Read them and weep.

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