“Sick” could not have been written at a better time. It was written by Jonathan Cohn and published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2007, when the debate on health care had just been returned on the national agenda. In the book, Cohn, who then worked as a senior editor at the New Republic, depicts how the American health care system selectively renders medical attention to its citizens. He travels around the United States to gather more details on the extent of the crisis and feel the firsthand effects on the citizens.
His findings are tragic and exasperating. In Boston, Cynthia Kline, a teacher at Cambridge, discovers that she is having a heart attack and calls the paramedics for assistance. They rush her Mount Auburn Hospital, the only facility that can administer her much needed catheterization, only to find the emergency room full. She finally succumbs to the disorder two and a half hours later. The story highlights one of the major issues affecting the healthcare system in the U.S.- overcrowding.
In other instances, he recounts a case of a mother who had been denied medical cover for her developmentally-challenged child by her managed-care provider. In Deltona, an insurance company cons a diabetic self-employed woman while in Chicago, a poor woman, who formerly worked as a nun, is denied charity healthcare at the catholic Hospital. By the end of Jonathan’s story we have perceived the situation as it is: the bleak disintegration of the mental health system; the stunning debt; over-reliance on the pay slip-based insurance; unfulfilled guarantees to preventive health care; selective administration of medical services. Lack of insurance coverage is also depicted as a problem, but since a large majority of the patients in the emergency rooms had a cover, insurance cannot shoulder the blame alone.
The fact that Cohn picks his subjects causes the cases narrated to fail in the true expression of the health situation as it currently is. His victims seem to be hardworking people who are only deterred by a faulty system. They live out the victims of health risk tendencies such as smoking, excessive drinking or failure to watch one’s diet who form a large proportion of the patients in American hospitals. His main intention, as he says, is to show how the need for health care surpasses one’s ability to meet the costs involved. The author goes further to explain how we came by the current situation by recounting the history of different case studies. He meticulously follows the developmental process of major institutions, such as insurance firms - both private and employer-sponsored, religious hospitals and commercial healthcare. Cohn then recounts how enactment of the health policy has formed the basis of presidential elections; right from the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pursuit of a universal health insurance plan, through President Nixon’s employer directive to insure their workers to President Clinton’s frustrated reform attempts.
“Sick” fails to offer solutions to our troubled health care system, but it does include a brief section on what may be our best action. Cohn backs Senator Ron Wyden’s proposal that the employer-sponsored insurance should be scrapped in favor of bigger paychecks. This will enabled the workers to purchase private insurance and forgo the tedious and infuriating process of being turned down by the employer. Competition between private companies will only lead to improved insurance plans. He indicates his preference for the French health care system by offering a short description of the single-player model. However, he fails to consider critical questions. For example, how would health care function operate as a regular market? Should we concentrate on improving the private operators or should we double government intervention? Though it is unfortunate he does not indulge in the analysis of these issues, his book will have done well in bringing us closer to better health care should the policy changes be implemented.