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The Documentary “Sick Around the World” Examines Healthcare Costs and Outcomes in Major Economies. The US Comes Out Worst.

by Andrew Feld

Frustrations with the US healthcare system have led people to look abroad for ideas about how to improve. The documentary “Sick Around the World,” by journalist T.R. Reid, details the healthcare systems of five different countries: the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland. All five are free market economies like the US, but have better health outcomes with a lower overall cost. 

PBS Frontline produced the documentary in 2008 and since then it has become popular teaching material in many academic settings. The hour-long film thoroughly examines issues of access and affordability. Since the film came out, the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) was passed, in 2010; that improved access to care but did very little to reduce cost, and increased healthcare expenses have not led to better outcomes. In 2023, the US had the highest GDP in the world, yet ranked 47th in terms of life expectancy. 

Reid interviews doctors, insurance executives, policymakers and patients in each of the five countries. All of those perspectives help the documentary provide a well-rounded view on each healthcare system. For example, Reid talks to a doctor in the UK who treats hundreds of patients a day for a fraction of what that would cost in the United States. That doctor is a part of the National Health Service, the UK’s socialized health system. In Germany, Reid speaks to a leader of a “sickness fund,” a privately run insurance that people pay into.  The German government restricts the funds’ profit margins, but each sickness fund still competes with one another to earn what profit they can. 

Through it all, Reid considers pros and cons to each country’s health system. This documentary has obviously been out a while but it but still relevant for people interested in learning about alternatives to the complicated US healthcare system. 

To watch “Sick Around the World”  please click here