If healthcare in the United States frustrates you, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal is the book for you. It alternately made me furious, sad, and empowered me to ask a thousand more questions of my various providers.
Rosenthal is an M.D. by training, who also has over two decades of journalistic experience since leaving the practice of medicine. She’s now the editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News, an independent, non-profit, newsroom based in Washington, D.C. focusing on health and health policy. (Not related to Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Health Systems.)
Normally I don’t include the author’s credentials in a review, at least not in this kind of detail. But in the case of An American Sickness, I think it’s important to know. To me, Rosenthal’s writing was the perfect blend of medical knowledge and journalistic outrage. She calls the healthcare system on the carpet, as it very much deserves.
I’m sure my own experiences assisted in understanding the context and content of the book. Living with chronic illness necessitates a great deal of medically-related learning. But even if I didn’t have this background, I would have found Rosenthal’s book understandable. She tells patient stories throughout, which bring the realities into stark focus.
At the beginning of An American Sickness are a group of “Economic Rules of the Dysfunctional Medical Market.” Rosenthal continually refers her readers back to these rules, and that helps connect all the various parts of the industry. One rule, for example, is “As technologies age, prices can rise rather than fall.” This point gets hammered home over and over, when discussing pharmaceuticals, tests, imaging, hospital stays, and insurance premiums.
Rosenthal also refers regularly to the way health care and health insurance are handled in other countries. It’s proof positive that the U.S. doesn’t put patients or actual health above profit. But just when the depression deepened for me, she’d throw in a practical suggestion to help manage the situation. Some suggestions were questions a patient can ask. Others were things that we should push our physicians or surgeons to know or provide, even in the existing system.
All in all, I found this to be a meaningful book that isn’t just bitching about healthcare gone wrong. It’s about finding solutions, both on a grassroots and systemwide level. It was extremely well worth my reading time.