By Jamie Thunder
June 2009
‘Before Congress rushes to overhaul healthcare, listen to those who already have a government-run healthcare.’ So intones the bald, vaguely medical-looking Rick Scott at the start of one of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights recent attack ads, urging people to reject a socialised healthcare system.
The adverts include testimonies from patients and a medical professor (a medical professor who, incidentally, didn’t know what his interview was to be used for, although he apparently doesn’t object to the adverts), detailing the flaws of the UK and Canada’s state-run healthcare systems. Patients die while waiting for treatment. Cancer drugs are withheld. Life-saving smear tests aren’t provided.
The message is clear: Americans deserve choice, not a government monopoly. Socialised, state-run medicine isn’t working, and should not be imported to the United States.
But before you rush to pick up the phone to the White House and tell Obama this, listen to someone who already has government-run healthcare.
Let me first set out my credentials (more than Rick Scott does): I’ve lived in the United Kingdom all my life, as has my family. My housemate is studying medicine at university. My girlfriend and her mother live in the UK, but until four years ago lived in Pennsylvania. They prefer the system here.
That’s it. I’m not part of any pressure group like Conservatives for Patients’ Rights – which I can only assume was set up to counter those nasty Liberals Against Patients’ Rights – and I have no medical knowledge whatsoever. Not so long ago I asked my housemate what men had in place of a womb (nothing, apparently).
Okay, assuming you’re still reading, we go to the interesting – and important – bit. The NHS began operations (teehee) in 1948, and now provides free universal healthcare to people in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, all of which have their own variants of the National Health Service. The NHS is also now the third biggest employer in the world, behind the Chinese army and the Indian state railway.
From the NHS, patients receive subsidised (or in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, free) prescriptions, free dental care until the age of 18, free eye checkups until the age of 16 (18 if you’re in full-time education), and free GP appointments and hospital care. Your dental care and eye checkups are also subsidised after you stop being eligible for the free treatment. None of this is dependent on your income.
The impression you might have from the CPR adverts, available on Youtube with the description ‘Listen to the real-life stories of the victims of government-run healthcare’, is that people in Britain despise the NHS’s bureaucracy and limits, and therefore want it overhauled.
Not quite. The NHS does have problems, no doubt. It’s swaddled in bureaucracy, and last year spent around £350million ($557million, according to Google) on mysterious beings called ‘management consultants’. It can’t afford expensive cancer-treating drugs that are available – at huge cost – on the private market. It can’t afford to pay for free HPV smears for all, mostly because the overall cost per life saved would be very high.
This all goes some way towards explaining people’s objections. But despite those calls for ‘reform’ on the advert, note that none said that they wanted a US system where people die or are refused treatment because they can’t afford it. They just said they wanted ‘reform’. I would reckon that the reform they want is narrowly tied to their experiences – cancer patients would want cancer drugs to be provided for free, those with HPV would want the smears for free etc.
Besides, any argument that states or suggests a state-run healthcare system would ‘remove choice’ is completely fallacious. In the UK, if you can afford it, there is choice. There are private hospitals. Some companies have private health insurance schemes. Much like in the US.
The difference is, if you don’t have money you won’t be turned away. You won’t be billed for operations, dental checkups, or GP appointments. Ironically, there have been moves recently to bring outside contractors into the NHS to part-privatise it, but it remains one of the best things about British society.
Don’t just take it from me though – take it from someone who’s experienced both the US and UK systems. When I asked my girlfriend how she thought the two compared, she said that “the US healthcare system is possibly the biggest con in my mental list when considering if I'd ever move back”. You don’t hear that from CPR.
vhcle-09:global notes
Jamie Thunder is an English language undergraduate at Cardiff University, Wales. He writes for and sub-edits his student newspaper, www.gairrhydd.com. His interests include current affairs and bad puns, and he hopes this will equip him for a career in journalism.
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