Times entertainment writer Mike Hale previewed a Frontline documentary, "Sick Around the World," for Tuesday's Arts section, andwholly embraced its left-wing premise (transmitted by a Washington Post reporter) that nationalized health care is superior to the failed U.S. version.
If your latest battle with your H.M.O. has you pounding your head with frustration, "Sick Around the World" on PBS may spur you to more drastic action, like leaving the United States altogether.
In this "Frontline" report on Tuesday night, the Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid travels to five countries - Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland - that manage to provide some form of universal health coverage to their populations. In each nation, he reports, insurance premiums are significantly lower than those in America (in Britain there are none), and the waiting time to see a doctor is either tolerable (in Britain) or nonexistent.
This fast-moving and entertaining hour starts from the premise that the American health care system, with its high costs, multiple gatekeepers and failure to provide insurance for much of the population, is a failure. And Mr. Reid makes the case (in about 10 minutes per country) that other capitalist democracies have not just cheaper and more equally available health care, but also better care over all, with longer life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates. The clinics and hospitals he visits may not be as spacious and well buffed as those in American suburbs, but surveys of these countries' citizens - the actual consumers of care - show rates of satisfaction that should make American providers blush.
Hale goes on and one before finally admitting in an aside that government-run health care is not "perfect":
Nothing is perfect, of course. We see German doctors taking to the streets in mass protests over the low payments they receive. We learn that the Japanese and Taiwanese systems are running at a deficit, which will mean either higher fees or higher taxes. But even if those Asian countries were to make up their deficits immediately, they would still be spending only half as much of their gross domestic product on health care as the United States - and, by all accounts, providing far more to their people than the "safety nets" that our presidential candidates propose as solutions to the American crisis.
One area "Sick Around the World" doesn't explore is the one that probably makes many Americans - those well above the poverty line, anyway - most nervous about the idea of medical regulation: the availability of the kind of heroic, expensive care we expect when our hearts fail, or cancer strikes. That kind of care is the subject of "The Truth About Cancer," another PBS health special, on Wednesday night.
Among the many questions Hale doesn't bother to ask - will Americans be as amenable as Europeans to long waiting lists and more regulation that discourage technological advances?