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AN AMERICAN SICKNESS by Elisabeth Rosenthal


How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back

by Elisabeth Rosenthal

Pub Date: April 11th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-59420-675-7
Publisher: Penguin Press

A blast across the bow of the entire health care industry, which “attends more or less single-mindedly to its own profits.”

Rosenthal, a senior writer for the New York Times who has a Harvard Medical School degree and served as a physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, asserts that the American medical system is sick, having lost its focus on health. In the introduction, her list of “Economic Rules of the Dysfunctional Medical Market” includes such gems as “1. More treatment is always better. Default to the most expensive option,” and “10. Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear.” She begins by demonstrating how for-profit insurance changed the way hospitals operate and doctors practice medicine and how it has revolutionized the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Throughout, the author blends extensive research with human interest. A personal horror story, with names and dates, opens each chapter: an individual dies or nearly dies, someone is overtreated, or someone receives a staggering bill for a simple test or procedure. In forthright language—Rosenthal uses blunt terms like “crapshoot” and “mess”—individual chapters focus in turn on hospitals, physicians, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, testing, and assorted medical business such as billing, coding, and collection agencies. One or more of the 10 “Economic Rules” sums up each presentation, driving home the author’s message of a deeply flawed medical-industrial system. Rosenthal then offers advice to patients on how to make the system more responsive and affordable. Beyond that, she details what changes society could and should demand through updates of regulations and laws. Five appendices provide further guidance, including a glossary of terms used in medical billing, sources of information on the internet about doctors, hospitals, procedures, and drugs, and templates for concise and effective protest letters.

A scathing denouncement, stronger in portraying the system’s problems than in offering pragmatic solutions.