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An American Health Care Skeptic Defends the NHS

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With the health care debate currently raging in the U.S., the spotlight has been thrown on Britain's National Health Service (NHS).   Americans are worried that they, should President Obama manage to pass his health care bill in Congress, will be strapped with an inefficient government system that alone will determine how they are looked after.

Inefficient the NHS might indeed be, and this is because not only does it have to care for the needs of 61 million people, but those of illegal immigrants as well. There have also been horrifying examples of neglect, such as at an NHS hospital in Stafford, where up to 1,200 people died from neglect. The NHS also likes to dictate who receives what treatment and when, in the name of cost-cutting.

But the NHS, despite its struggles, does the best that it can, burdened as it is. And it is not, in the words of that renowned Rhodes scholar,, Sarah Palin, "evil."

There was a time, during my early years in England, when I scoffed at the NHS. Nothing was guaranteed to make my blood boil more fiercely than Brits who couldn't seem to understand why we Americans won't endorse any form of socialism. I had long arguments with my wife over why the NHS was a waste of money and resources, in addition to being, due to its aforementioned socialist nature, immoral.

But then, when I was in need myself, my view toward the NHS ameliorated somewhat. When you are in such pain that you cannot think straight, your views are bound to change a little.

In May 2005, I had a serious kidney stone attack and was in such bad shape that I required an ambulance to take me to the hospital. I was assessed at one hospital, had x-rays and blood taken, and then transferred across London to another hospital with a urology department so that I could be given specialist treatment. I was in this hospital, Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital near London Bridge, for four days. At no point was I uncomfortable, at no point did I think I deserved better. The paramedics, the doctors, the nurses, the consultants: they were all wonderful.

You'll understand my feelings here, dear reader. If I bash the NHS, I bash these people who looked after me when I was in agony. I can't do that.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate being able to see a doctor without filling out cumbersome forms. I won't say it costs nothing, because that's not true. But I have already paid for it through taxes. The tax rate in Britain has consistently been around 23 percent. That is not unreasonable (even if I say that as a 17% flat tax supporter). The majority of Americans pay the same rate, and they don't have a government health care system.

Sure, the NHS is a bureaucracy and in these lean times, with more and more people living in Britain, it has shown signs of incompetence. But private health care exists in Britain, for those who demand it, and even that is considerably cheaper than American health care. Unlike Canada, Britain does not mandate that everyone use the government-provided health care. The NHS is there for those who cannot afford private health care.

Britain, in my opinion, needs to get serious about trimming welfare rolls, stop doling out cash for every baby born (let people pay for their own children), and strike all but emergency care for illegals. There is plenty of waste to be tackled and any money that is freed up can better assist the NHS.

In the U.S., the situation is different. There are 300 million people to look after. If $10 billion of taxpayers' money is to be invested every year over five years to move American health care toward a standards-based care system that excludes no one, it's bound to be tricky, and it's no wonder that it's scaring the pants off Americans. From the July 27 issue of The Weekly Standard, Fraser Nelson & Irwin Stelzer report that "patients suffering from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions will do it the Obama-Biden way or else be excluded from insurance coverage." Canada all over again.

Americans are in no mood to experiment. They do not like their current health care system, but they fear what they might get, or not, as the case may be, with government-regulated health care. According to Stryker McGuire's report in the August 15 edition of The Daily Telegraph newspaper:

[A] solid majority (62 percent versus 32 percent) is in favor of giving Americans the option of a government insurance plan. But that's all they agree on … By a 55 to 35 percent margin, they're more worried that Congress will spend too much money and add to the deficit than that Congress will not act to overhaul the health care system. By a similar margin, voters say health care reform should be dropped if it adds 'significantly' to the deficit, and by a much wider margin (72-21 percent), voters do not believe that Obama will keep his promise to overhaul the health-care system without adding to the deficit.

You could write a book, in fact, many have been written, on the inequities, inadequacies, irregularities and idiosyncrasies of health care. I obviously do not intend to do that. In fact, my knowledge of the intricacies of health care is hardly in-depth. I know what everyone else does: that drug companies have too much say, insurance company lobbyists are too influential, malpractice lawsuits are a constant worry, and the obesity-producing lifestyle habits of the nation are hardly conducive to a cheap and easy delivery of health care.

But I do not blame my fellow Americans for protesting government health care; in fact, I'm proud of them for it. We are all heirs to Thomas Jefferson's limited government mindset. His legacy is something we are right to defend so robustly. (One wonders, if Hamilton had won the day, would Americans still be agonizing over health care in 2009?) It is certainly preferable to letting the government control every aspect of our lives as they are wont to do in Europe, where nearly everyone believes that the state will look after them and they'll all live happily ever after as a result. Americans don't believe that rubbish, and more power to them. As Jefferson said himself, a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.

But the point is, despite all that is wrong with government-run health care, the immorality of socialism, the inadequacy of insurance options, what have you, Britain's NHS is not evil.

 

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About Nightdragon

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Nice piece, Mark. I’m glad you’ve had good experiences with the NHS. Actually, you’re lucky to be living in London, which is home to some of the world’s most venerable and respected hospitals – the now-merged Guy’s and St Thomas’s, which you were transferred to, being two of them. The new Chelsea and Westminster – a massive place off Brompton Road – is another.

    The NHS is great if you’re in general good health, which most Brits are, and only need to see your GP or go to the ER occasionally. It starts to struggle a bit if you become chronically ill but even then, your quality of treatment is still going to be far better than most elsewhere in the world, and it’s reassuring to know that the cost of your care is covered and that you won’t be sliding into bankruptcy just because you have cancer.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    As for the US system as it stands, I’ve expressed my feelings on it before, but they bear repeating. American healthcare is unrivalled anywhere in the world – IF you can afford it.

    The problem is that no-one can: hence the need for all these bloated, unwieldy and complicated insurance policies, which are STILL too expensive for most people and have to be subsidized by one’s employer or by the government.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    Hi Dr. D:

    Regarding treatment for chronic conditions, my wife has had Type 2 diabetes for about four years now, and the treatment she has received can’t be faulted. She has yearly checks on her feet and eyesight. She’s on several medications for her diabetes and related conditions, which she gets all free … or, well, through her taxes. Even if she did have to pay for the prescriptions, she could pay a one-off fee of about £100 which would cover her for all prescriptions for a year.

    Since this is my wife we’re talking about, whose life I value more than my own, I’m entirely grateful for that.

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    I worked for a while for the Undergraduate Medicine Office of Imperial College, and one of our campuses for exams was the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. So I’m quite acquainted with it. One time, a student called me to his desk while I was invigilating, and a big clock that we’d hung above the auditorium stage, where I’d been sitting, fell just five seconds after I left my post to attend to him. If he hadn’t called me away, God only knows how badly I’d have been injured! But, at least I was already at a hospital!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    And a damn good hospital at that. My ex-mother-in-law (life gets complicated sometimes!) was transferred to the ICU at the C&W after she contracted emphysema, and the quality of the care and facilities there was first class. Sadly she didn’t survive her illness, but there was a lot else wrong with her.

  • Clavos

    . It starts to struggle a bit if you become chronically ill

    My big fear for my wife under Obamacare…

  • LAWYERS FOR POOR AMERICANS

    OUR AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS SILENCE IS MORE FREIGHTENING THEN DENIAL OF HEALTH ~ CARE FOR ALL OUR POOR AMERICANS ….

    ~ THE LOUD LAUGH OF SATAN WAS HEARD IN THE PEOPLES HALLS OF U.S. CONGRESS AND AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS HAVE TURNED THEIR HEADS,CLOSED THEIR EYES AND SHUT THEIR EARS IN FEAR ~

    THIS OLD WORLD ORDER OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF OUR POORER AMERICANS NEEDS ENLIGHTENED POLITICAL MINDS AND HEARTS TO VIEW GOD DIFFERENTLY THEN $$$?. NO MATTER WHAT THEIR POLITICAL PARTY AFFILIATION ???

    WHEN WILL OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS ABATE THEIR ASSAULT ON POORER AMERICANS WITH THEIR MONETARY CONTROL OF OUR IVORY TOWER U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER ???

    THERE ARE NOT MANY MORE DISTRACTIONS LEFT WHICH ARE AVAILABLE FOR OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS TO HIDE BEHIND IN NOT TAKING PROPER CARE OF ALL OUR AMERICANS IN A HUMANE FASHION !!!

    RALPH NADER ATTEMPTED TO EDUCATE AMERICAN VOTERS ABOUT U.S. CORPORATE POWER IN AMERICA AND HOW THEY CONTROL OUR CONGRESSIONAL PEOPLE THROUGH THEIR POCKET BOOK (POLITICAL DONATIONS).
    * WITHOUT THE DOUGH $$$ THESE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD DO NOT GET RE~ELECTED TO CONGRESS.*TO STAY IN POLITICAL OFFICE IN AMERICA,ONE HAS TO BARTER YOUR VOTES IN CONGRESS AND REPRESENT POWER INTERESTS IN RETURN FOR THE BUCK$.

    POORER AMERICANS HAVE NEVER HAD THE $$$ LOBBY TO INFLUENCE THIS CORRUPT POLITICAL CONCEPT (of horse trading political votes for political contributions) TO ACHIEVE PROPER HEALTH ~CARE OR LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR ALL OUR MIDDLE ~ CLASS AND WORKING POOR AMERICANS.

    AMERICAN IVORY TOWER U.S.CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD HAVE PASSED FEDERAL LEGISLATION IN WASHINGTON DC TO SPEND 50 BILLION AMERICAN TAX $$$ ON THE INTERNATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST AIDS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS WHILE THEIR OWN AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE BEING TOLD BY THIS SAME U.S.CONGRESS THAT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE AND PROPER LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR CITIZENS IS UNAFFORDABLE.

    *** WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS (WHO ARE ONLY 1% OF OUR USA POPULATION) SADLY ALSO CONTROL HOW OUR U.S.CONGRESS SPENDS THEIR BUDGET TRILLION$ AND HAVE OBVIOUSLY FOUND MORE WORTHY INTERNATIONAL CITIZENS THEN OUR OWN DESPERATE AND NEEDY POOR TO ASSIST !!!

    ~Poorer Americans Nationwide only get 400 million $$$ per year for legal representation allocated them by CONGRESS~

    Middle Class and Working Poor Americans are unable to afford proper legal representation in their Civil, Criminal and Family Courts of law all across America causing tremendous hardships nationwide,but these great minds and callous hearts in our American Congress have found others Worldwide more needy then their own citizens who are being falsely incarcerated,wrongfuly executed,losing their homes or apartments,losing child custody or visitation with their children etc? Not being afforded proper legal representation by our U.S. Congress has created a total breakdown of the American judicial system for our poorer Americans because the our U.S. Courts punish all of us little people if we are not assisted with proprer legal counsel.

    *It is a known fact that our average Middle Class and Working Poor Americans without proper legal representation in all of our American Courts of law lose their legal cases to the better financed who are able to afford lawyers.

    Lawyers For Poor Americans is now actively in the hunt for International Countries and Leaders Worldwide to help raise 5 Billion Dollar$ for our slighted poorer Americans who have had their own American Congress turn their backs on their desperate needs in not affording them proper legal representation.

    Troy Davis and Mumia Abu ~ Jamal are 2 perfect examples of American citizens who never had proper legal representation or defense investigations afforded them by our U.S. Congressional Leaders Of The Free World in their initial criminal trials in (Georgia and Pennsylvania) who might very well have to pay the ultimate price of possibly being completely innocent and falsely executed in the near future.

    These two poorer Americans are among tens of thousands of legal cases nationwide that never were afforded proper legal representation or proper defense investigations at their initial trials??**We the public really have no idea if these men are innocent or guilty until they both are given fair legal representation at their new future trials.

    Improper murder trials and needless deaths due to the lack of healthcare take place in Third World Countries all the time. *** Why should average Middle~Class and Working Poor Americans in the Wealthiest Country Of The World be treated as if they are living a Third World Life Style ??

    This is the first of many www International pleas by Lawyers For Poor Americans for other leaders and countries to help raise the needed monie$ to correct these blatant injustices that have been inflicted on poorer Americans for the last few decades. Lawyers For Poor Americans has many other written articles that can be viewed with any www search engine by our name or our telephone number.

    Lawyers For Poor Americans is a www lobby group of volunteers that sing out about the decades old neglect,abuse and injustices being inflicted on our poorer Americans that have become Crimes Against Humanity issues for the International World Court to investigate.

    [Personal contact info deleted]

  • http://nitpickingnightdragon.blogspot.com Mark Edward Manning

    “Lawyers For Poor Americans is a www lobby group of volunteers that sing out about the decades old neglect,abuse and injustices being inflicted on our poorer Americans that have become Crimes Against Humanity issues for the International World Court to investigate.”

    Sing out about?! A group of lawyers that sing? Do you go on tour? Have you done a tour of Iraq or Afghanistan recently?! Or do you just serenade outside the U.N. offices in New York?

    Bloody loonies.

  • STM

    My experience too with the NHS (at Barts, near Fleet Street and Smithfield Market; the old part of the hospital is some rather beaut architecture too). It’s a good system, but as Britons themselves will readily admit, it’s far from perfect.

    Like the system in Oz. Good, but not perfect. Right now, our state government through dreadful financial mismanagement is running some great hospitals into the ground to the point where the federal government might have to step in at some point (State election 2011. The countdown has begun). Nevertheless, if I were ill and wondering about my income, I’d rather be in the UK or Oz than in the US under the current system.

    Not that I’d be worried about the level of care in the US … it’s obviously excellent. But the prospect of bankruptcy, losing the house, worrying about whether your insurer will pay, etc, might really be another stress you don’t need at that time.

    That’s the beauty of universal health care. It takes the worry away.

    I’m happy to pay for that with my taxes.

    Once Americans get it, most of them will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

  • John Wilson

    STM: “Once Americans get it, most of them will be wondering what all the fuss was about.”

    I’ll second that!