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Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis---and the People Who Pay the Price

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  491 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
America's health care system is unraveling, with millions of hard-working people unable to pay for prescription drugs and regular checkups, let alone hospital visits. Jonathan Cohn traveled across the United States—the only country in the developed world that does not guarantee its citizens access to medical care—to investigate why this crisis is happening and to see first ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 6th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published 2007)
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Dawn Michelle
Jun 09, 2007 Dawn Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I currently have health insurance. But as a part-time/ freelancer, I pay a lot for very little. I've been injured while uninsured and it sucks to say the least. I once worked a job I hated for two-and-a-half years just to fix all the stuff that was broken in me from the period I was uninsured. (I ended up severely depressed and in therapy, my insurance covered just 2 visits a month.) It was a risk to quit the job, but it had to be done. I lost the insurance but within 2 years I landed my dream w ...more
Jun 29, 2007 VMom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm quite in favor of universal healthcare, so the author is preaching to the choir here. That being said, I actually found this book tedious. Maybe it's just me. The book has a collection of true tragic healthcare stories from around the country, with a short ending on single-payer systems. Maybe that's what I found tedious -- I already know how broken the system is; I wanted more focus on solutions.
Aaron Crossen
Jul 06, 2007 Aaron Crossen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at health care in the U.S., focusing on the stories of 7 or so families that fell through the cracks of the system. Fairly even-handed throughout, although private insurers come off as dastardly. The history of health insurance, dating back to the old Blue Cross programs, was fascinating.

What made the biggest impression on me the most, however, was the conclusion, the argument in which rang emotionally and intellectually true. Also of note is the annotated bibliography, which is
Aug 24, 2007 Teague rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readrecently
Though not actually related in any way, I don't think it's too far off base to call this the calm, wonky book version of Michael Moore's Sicko (a good movie, by the way, if you can look past Moore's exaggerations and the trip to Cuba that ends the film). Both use the stories of individuals screwed by our system to make points about U.S. health policy.

Well-executed, but I found it a bit ponderous on the whole -- though using real people to make the policy discussion more immediate is a good techn
Oct 07, 2007 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was well researched and had a format that was satisfying in a "Law and Order" sort of way (each chapter introduces a real person battling the health care system then pulls back to put that person's struggles in context). It clearly spells out the history of our health care system, and the many ways in which it's failing nearly everyone, with enough "real person" detail to get you in the gut. So why just three stars? I guess because I knew much of what Cohn writes about already. I've re ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Carl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that balances the dry history of medical insurance in this country with tearful portraits of Americans whose lives have been destroyed, both physically and financially, by medical catastrophes. Most of these catastrophes could've been either prevented or largely mitigated in a single-payer system of national healthcare. If you understand this concept well enough already, I'd suggest you just rent Sicko instead.
Jun 24, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really didn't want to like this book. It's a series of personal stories on how people have been screwed by the health care system, and I couldn't stop thinking that 10 stories can't possibly be a representative sample! But, I actually really enjoyed this book. The stories were used as examples and the author went into the history of each problem. It wasn't quite unbiased enough for my taste, but I don't know if any books on health care are ever unbiased.
Elizabeth Dwoskin
It's simply written, but a clear narrative of why a privatized health care system that used to work now doesn't, plus explains the exponential rise in costs, especially for the self-employed
Sep 09, 2008 Yune rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, medicine
"Most Americans still have health insurance and, more often than not, they're reasonably happy with it. They know that millions of Americans aren't so lucky, but, according to the polls, they have a hard time imagining themselves in that situation. (They continue to believe, for example, that most people without insurance are unemployed.) Similarly, while they grasp that the uninsured don't always get the same quality care as people with coverage, they still think the uninsured get medical atten ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Ronando rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health-care
Each year, I pick a subject I'm interested in studying on my own and I read as many books as I can. My first year I read something like 11 books on Vietnam. Health care is my second subject of interest.

This is the first book of my year long study of health care. Sick primarily focuses on some of the problems our current health care system faces. At each chapter it presents a true heart breaking story of real people who have suffered. It's sad and an eye opener to health care but it wasn't what I
Jonathan Cohn does an amazing job of addressing our current heath care situation.

This book was not a rant nor was it a dry policy piece. Cohn does a fantastic job of weaving the history of American health care in with case studies of people of different ages, from different backgrounds, from different regions of the country and who had different problems with the healthcare system. He then put each situation in its proper context in history and policy so that he could explain why these things ha
Aug 12, 2009 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really want to understand this enormously complex issue in order to have an informed opinion on it. What I've learned from this book is that the arguments being made against health care reform today are virtually identical to those used repeatedly over the last century--and, alas, they still seem to work. My clearest insight: insurance only works the way it is supposed to when the pools are big and diverse enough to genuinely spread risk around and allow the group as a whole to come out even. ...more
Sep 11, 2009 Anna rated it it was amazing
I started this book on the subway and cried through the first 25 pages. After that things tapered off, although I still welled up at least once every chapter.

Cohn did an amazing job of making the history and current status of our health care system interesting to read - I didn't ever feel like I HAD to keep reading; I just WANTED to keep reading!

Everyone who wants to know how and why our current health care system operates the way it does should read this book!
Sep 27, 2009 Ray rated it really liked it
Jonathan Cohn, a Harvard grad, is a senior editor at The New Republic, contributing editor at The American Prospect and a senior fellow at the think tank Demos. He has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, Slate and The Washington Monthly.

I found Sick to be an excellent primer on the U.S. health care system. The subtitle: the untold story of America's health care crisis - and those who pay the price, turns out to be the focus of this book (shockin
Oct 13, 2009 Unwisely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
This was sort of an history of how the US health care system evolved - a bunch of backroom political deals and such are interwoven with tragic tales. I knew some about the topic, but I learned things, and was sucked in - read the whole thing cover to cover in about 2 hours when I finally sat down to read it. Am not sure how it would work on people who think that US Health Care is fine as is, but, I liked it all right.
Irving Koppel
Nov 13, 2009 Irving Koppel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sick

Through a series of case studies which encompass the country from
New York to California,Mr.Cohn illustrates the inadequacies of our
present health care system.He vividly portrays the perils of job loss
as it affects the loss of health insurance.Further, he shows how many,
thinking they have good coverage,frequently find that they have very
little. Then there's the saga of the overburdened emergency rooms popu-
lated by those without insurance. It is estimated that those with insur-
ance pay an extr
Daniel Solera
Mar 03, 2010 Daniel Solera rated it really liked it
Published two years ago, Jonathan Cohn’s Sick is an excellent primer for today’s clamorous healthcare debate. Each chapter concerns a particular person or family who fall victim to the ambiguities, deregulation and predation of the American healthcare system and later suffer detrimental financial times.

The people in Cohn’s book aren’t indigent or overtly irresponsible, but rather decent, lower-to-middle class citizens with jobs, ambitions and a desire to live happily. However, they fall into tou
Aug 22, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good summary of how the American health care system got to be the way it is (or at least the way it was before the new health care bill), and also a very engaging read. Every chapter is based around a different anecdote, each illustrating a different problem with the system. For instance there's a self-employed consultant with diabetes who ends up buying a fradulent health insurance policy, which frames a whole discussion on the individual market, an ex-nun who gets sued by a su ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With Obamacare now law, perhaps "Sick" is destined to be a work of history— an account of just how dysfunctional health insurance in the United States had become. Throughout the book, author Jonathan Cohn weaves heart-wrenching personal stories alongside health politics and policy in his diagnosis of the ills of the health care system.

Be warned, however, if you prefer to learn about health care from people shouting loud noises at you (SOCIALISM!): this may not be your cup of tea.

The unyielding
May 02, 2012 Anjali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely fascinating and provides expansive historical and political context for the development of the healthcare system in the United Staes -- from FDR's Social Security Act of 1935 to Truman's attempt at health reform in the 1940s to LBJ's implementation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 -- and through the rise of managed care in the 1990s and Clinton-era attempts at universal healthcare. It is peppered with anecdotes that illustrate various flaws in our healthcare system and it ...more
May 30, 2012 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Sick, Cohn offers us fascinating case studies of folks who's plight(s), to him, are indicative of the entire health system's failings. The studies are witty, thoroughly researched and hang together with a bit of historical background that he provides ongoing.

It's a great story - for me, this works entirely, as I generally agree with his conclusions. I believe that he'd have had more success with a broader audience - including perhaps some people who may disagree with his views - if he didn't
William Corder
Dec 29, 2012 William Corder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great PERSONAL look at some of the poorer aspects of modern health care. Initially, Cohn gives a succinct history of insurance in the United States, and then uses stories to highlight different aspects of our insurance system that have missed the mark in recent years. A good read for anyone that wants to be a little more informed for the health care debate. Let the topics in this book move you toward the Kaiser Foundation website on the ACA (or something similar), so that you can form your own ...more
Feb 18, 2013 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the individual stories were overly sentimental, the patient scenarios set the stage nicely for the historical account of health insurance in America. This book offered a great review of Medicare, Medicaid, S-CHIP, MCOs, and care for the uninsured. It's ultimately a push for universal health care, told through emotional stories, but altogether an interesting prelude to what may change with the Affordable Care Act.
Aug 06, 2013 Lexi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beth Haynes
Feb 09, 2014 Beth Haynes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: healthcare
Read this in preparation for attending a debate sponsored by the Benjamin Rush Institute ( at the Medical College of Wisconsin on Feb. 13th. (Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic and frequent writer on healthcare matters, will be one of the debaters.
This book consists of stories on people who have struggled to obtain medical care - and for a variety of reason ran into significant problems:
Losing insurance b/c of losing one's job. The steady decli
Jun 24, 2014 Jill rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5* really. I enjoyed the stories Cohn shared, and I appreciate his perspective. I agree wholeheartedly that the American healthcare needs a serious revamp. Though I have never been registered as anything but independent, I would have had a much easier time being convinced by his arguments if he hadn't been quite so partisan. While he gives both republicans and democrats their dues where he feels they are merited, you'd think that Kennedy and his administration single-handedly rescued the entir ...more
Jun 07, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enlightening--and depressing. Ignorance is bliss. Before I only wondered but now I KNOW I'm on shaky ground.

We know about these things (from the media or personal experiences) but it helps so much to read about it, sequentially, and in illustrated format.

I loved the case histories. They are as refreshing as a picture [which is alleged to be as good as 1,000 words]. Also loved that the sections were sometimes split up geographically, such as the one named Austin, 'cause that's where I am rig
May 30, 2015 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well-written, well-researched and accessible book on health care in America. Openly liberal-leaning (which was fine for me, but may not be for others), this title makes the need for reform clear and offers insight into how insurance companies pull the rug out from underneath hardworking men and women on a regular basis to make a profit. For the fortunate folks who've never been close enough to the system to observe its many failings, this is a solid primer.
This is a book about American Healthcare written in 2007. Using a series of case studies, it illustrates how our healthcare system has failed us. I liked how it went back to the history and origins of health insurance so we could find out why it ended up the way it did. A lot of the more present-time problems I knew, but it was good to see it personified in real people, and I learned a lot about the Medicare system. The only thing I did not like about this book was that it was repetitive. This s ...more
Athan Tolis
Jun 03, 2015 Athan Tolis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Jonathan Cohn has found a fantastic way to explain to somebody like me what's wrong with Medicine in the US.

Every chapter of the book is the story of another patient in another city:

Gary Rotzler from Gilbertsville, NY, lost the medical insurance that came with his high-paid aerospace job when he was made redundant in 1993. He did find work, and did so very promptly, but not work that offered him medical benefits, because by the mid-nineties the aerospace sector was feeling the squeeze
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