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Journalist examines health care issues in upcoming talk

Journalist T.R. Reid traveled the world’s richest democracies several years ago in search of answers.

He wanted to find the best treatment for an old shoulder injury that was causing pain. Yet more importantly, he wanted to investigate how other countries deliver health care to their citizens – often with better results and at lower cost.

His work culminated in “The Healing of America,” a best-seller acclaimed for its fresh and frank discussion about not only what’s wrong with health care in the United States, but what might be done to fix it.

Reid reports for the Washington Post, National Public Radio and PBS and this week will be speaking in Spokane about health care, thank in part to a local book club whose members were moved by his book.

Leading the effort was Kelly Hunt, a real estate agent who, as Reid described it, “has the kind of gumption to just call me and ask: ‘Will you come to Spokane and speak to our book club?’”

One thing led to another and now Reid has himself locked into several days of Spokane activities sponsored by Eastern Washington University and Providence Health Care. He’s speaking to a group of Providence managers; biking a section of the Centennial trail with a group of local physicians; giving a public talk Tuesday about his book; and of course, having dinner and discussing his work with Hunt and the other members of “Power of One” book club.

In an interview last week, Reid his intent Tuesday will be to hit on the theme of his book by asking and answering three questions.

First, he intends to share his insights on how the rest of the world’s richest democracies – Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy and others – offer health care that is most often better, cheaper, more satisfactory and fairer to their citizens than that offered in the United States.

He’ll then share the reasons why these countries have such a health care system, and attempt to answer a more uncomfortable question directed to Americans: “Why don’t we.”

“My view, of course, is that we ought to,” he said, “that our destination for better health care should be universal coverage at a reasonable cost. My argument is that if we decided to do it, we could.”

Dr. Tom Schaaf, assistant district medical director for Group Health’s Spokane region, will lead a bicycle ride with Reid over the weekend and anticipates a lively discussion.

“I think he has done, really, a pretty good job of de-demonizing the way health care is delivered in other countries,” Schaaf said. “He has showed us that there are a number of different approaches to ensuring people have health care, and by and large, they’re darn happy with it.”

Schaaf has been a critic of the current fee-for-service model that he contends rewards “quantity over quality.” It’s a system that leads to excessive cost without necessarily providing the best care.

Reid is no medical or economic expert. He is, however, curious and dogged in pursuit of answers. And he has determined that Americans can build a better health care system borrowing from the ideas of other countries that “doesn’t have to be about big government.” “Universal coverage doesn’t mean ‘socialized medicine,’” he said, tracing the anti-reform rally cry to an effort by the American Medical Association in 1947 to disparage President Harry S. Truman’s proposal for a national health care system.

That potent description has been pressed into duty to fight reforms ever since, Reid said.

Reid bashed his shoulder in 1972 as a seaman, second class, in the U.S. Navy. A surgeon screwed his shoulder back together – a fix that worked fine for years until the screw loosened.

His search for a new treatment led him to advocate for a fix of the system.

He calls universal coverage a moral issue for Americans.

That view can be controversial and some even question his patriotism.

“I’m a person who believes that if you love our country, you’ll face up to its problems and help fix them,” he said.

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