While reporting on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, journalist Steven Brill was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that required heart surgery.
“There I was: a reporter who had made hospital presidents and hospital executives and health care executives and insurance executives sweat because I asked them all kinds of questions about their salaries and about their profit margins,” Brill tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “And now I was lying on a gurney in a hospital in real fear of my life.”
Brill had a bubble on his heart that the doctors said had a 15 to 17 percent chance of bursting each year, he says. If it did, he would die. The experience, Brill says, helped him analyze health care from a patient’s perspective.
“At that moment I wasn’t worried about costs; I wasn’t worried about a cost benefit analysis of this drug or this medical device; I wasn’t worried about health care policy,” Brill says. “It drove home to me the reality that in addition to being a tough political issue because of all the money involved, health care is a toxic political issue because of all the fear and the emotion involved.”
Brill’s surgery happened not long after he had written a special report for Time magazine investigating the inflated charges in hospital bills. The article Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us won a National Magazine Award. After winning the award, Brill ended up with pages and pages of his own inflated and confusing hospital charges.
“A patient in the American health care system has very little leverage, has very little knowledge, has very little power,” Brill says.
Now Brill has written the book America’s Bitter Pill about the political fights and the medical and pharmaceutical industry lobbying that made it difficult to pass any health care overhaul — and led to the compromises of the Affordable Care Act. The law enables
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