Health care reform: What are the best books on the topic?

Hoping to better understand the challenges of health care reform in the United States? Here's a reading list.

Alex Brandon/AP
Rep. Sheila Jackson's arm rests on an autographed copy of the health care reform bill after its passage by the US House of Representatives.

The US House of Representatives passed the healthcare reform bill late last night and President Obama will be signing it into law later this week. Then it will be the president's job to sell that reform to the rest of us.

For those hoping to gain a wider grasp of the American healthcare reform debate, here's a (beginning) reading list. The authors below do not offer common prescriptions, but they do share some lucid analyses of the problem:

– "Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis – and the People Who Pay the Price," by Jonathan Cohn. A reporter for New Republic, Cohn uses a series of case histories to help illustrate the complexity of the questions surrounding both private insurance coverage and health care delivery systems in the US.

– "Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer" by Shannon Brownlee. Writing in The New York Times in 2007, David Leonhardt called this not just a good book on healthcare but the best economics book of the year. Brownlee argues that Americans spend between one-fifth and one-third of their healthcare dollars – $500 billion to $700 billion – on medical care that does not actually improve their health.

– "Boomerang: Health Care Reform and the Turn Against Government" by Theda Skocpol. Pulitzer Prize-winning social scientist Skocpol's examination of the Clinton adminstration's failed attempt to "fix" healthcare in 1994 offers interesting background and many instructive points relevant to today's healthcare debate. ("The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point" by Haynes Johnson and David Broder is another good book that covers much of the same terrain.)

– "The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care" by David Gratzer. Gratzer is a practicing psychiatrist. Between the subtitle of his book (and the foreword to the paperback version by Milton Friedman) it will not surprise readers to discover that Gratzer makes a compelling case for individual control of healthcare over government involvement.

– "The Health Care Mess: How We Got Into It and What It Will Take to Get Out" by former Surgeon General Julius Richard and medical economist Rashi Fein. Richard and Fein favor government-financed universal healthcare and provide thoughtful analysis that buttresses their conclusions.

The list is hardly comprehensive and the accounts of the current bill are yet to be written. But for those who want to start their reading now, these titles provide a place to begin.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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