The Best Health Care in the World?

Photo: Tim Johnson Book: "The Truth About Getting Sick In America"
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In his newest book, "The Truth About Getting Sick in America: The Real Problems With Health Care and What We Can Do," former ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Timothy Johnson examines the health care picture in the United States and how it impacts all Americans.

Read an excerpt below from the Introduction of "The Truth About Getting Sick in America."

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"We Americans have the best health care in the world." That's what politicians tell us. And if you are (a) wealthy, (b) well insured, and/or (c) have the right connections, you have probably experienced the truth of that statement. But many of us also know people who do not fall into those categories and who have had great difficulty in getting timely, quality medical care.

And as a result of the ongoing and heated debate about health care reform, we also hear that other countries have health care just as good as ours, provide health insurance to all their citizens -- and do so at a significantly lower cost. So what is the truth? Do we Americans really have "the best health care in the world"? And if we truly have the best, why does it need reform?

Alas, when the subject of reform comes up, we usually find ourselves awash in a tsunami of political posturing and caustic catchphrases, such as "government takeover," "market mayhem," or "death panels" -- all of which are calculated to scare the daylights out of us, so we stop thinking about the underlying issues. But we need to start thinking and start talking. I recognize that for most Americans, finding out "the truth" about current problems or possible fixes is virtually impossible amid all the emotionally charged rhetoric. If you're in that camp, I would like to reach out and help you.

I have reported on health for ABC News part-time since 1975, when I joined a new program called Good Morning America, and full- time since 1984, when I became the Medical Editor of ABC News. Until the late 1990s, the majority of my time was spent on reporting and commenting about new developments in clinical medicine (such as an innovative technique for treating heart disease or a new drug for cancer) and promoting old ideas for good health (such as the importance of good nutrition and regular exercise).

But as we all entered this new century, I became increasingly concerned about the major problems with the way we Americans often receive and pay for our health care. Clearly, some of us have been blessed to receive the best care available anywhere in the world. However, because we don't have anything that could be called a national "system" of health care in this country, many Americans are falling between the cracks and not getting any care -- or getting care that is either inferior or too costly or both.

We do have many mini-systems of health care and insurance programs in this country, such as private medical systems like the Cleveland or Mayo clinics, or public insurance programs like Medicare or Medicaid. However, there is no national system that binds them together in a working whole. And when you're scrambling to find health care insurance you can afford -- when you or a spouse lose a job, when your company decides it can no longer afford health insurance, when a young adult finishes or drops out of school -- you are faced with the reality that there is no national plan as a backup or replacement.

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