Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Friday, July 24, 2009

Health Care In Britain and Canada

I don’t pretend to be familiar with all the ins and outs of the current health care proposals. What I do know is, anything would be better than what we have now - a system which empowers insurance companies to deny coverage or treatment to millions of Americans, breaking their pocketbooks at the very least and costing them their lives more often than most healthy Americans realize.

I also know that the Republicans are doing what they do best – distorting the facts. If they’d put all the money they spend on being obstructionists into something positive, like social programs, it would benefit the nation a lot more. Much of their hysterical, patently untrue, propaganda focuses on the British and Canadian health systems.

From across the pond Andrew Neil debunks the Republican debunking of the British health care on The Daily Beast. Neil claims, “it’s clear the opponents of reform are dragging the British National Health Service (NHS) into their side of the debate with the most outrageous distortions and ‘porkies’ (as in pork pies,i.e. lies).”


The NHS is regularly dismissed by U.S. critics of American reform as "socialized medicine." This is strange to trans-Atlantic ears. Most Brits don't think there's anything "socialist" about the NHS—it enjoys all-party support, including all right-of-center parties. The British Conservatives, who gave the world privatization under Margaret Thatcher, are totally committed to a national health service, tax-funded and free at the point of use (and Mrs. T never challenged these principles either).

The fact is that all mainstream right-of-center parties across continental Europe regard some kind of national health service covering everybody and largely free at the point of use as not particularly "socialist." There is broad consensus on the left, right and center about this.

(But) the way it is depicted by Obama's opponents—developing-world medical procedures, endless queuing, no choice of doctors or hospitals, antediluvian facilities, government dictation of health care—is a travesty of the truth.

Americans might like to ponder that it is better to be in a queue for health care that not qualify for any at all—which is the plight of those 47 million Americans who have no health insurance.

For the Brits, there is something comforting and reassuring that, if you are struck down by catastrophic illness or in need of expensive operations, being able to afford your treatment will not be an issue. The better off in Britain can still enjoy the best health care that money can buy; but the poor and the middle class know that the cost of their health care is not something they will have to worry about.

Indeed the incredible cost of U.S. health care is breath-taking, whether you're a reformer or anti-reformist. The U.S. spent some $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007. It is a mind-boggling number which amounts to more than 16 percent of U.S. GDP. That is nearly twice the average spent by other rich nations with advanced health systems—yet you have to wonder if this is value for money when, by most measures, the U.S. is a less healthy nation than other rich countries, on everything from infant mortality to longevity.

From north of the border Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald writes:

Sheesh! To hear the extremist rhetoric floating around south of the border, you'd think Canada's public health-care system was the socialist demon incarnate, hatched directly from the fevered imaginations of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels themselves.

Cool it, America. Your health-care system is nothing to write home about, with some 46 million people sans insurance, with your managed care and gatekeepers, your doctors wasting time filling out insurance forms, and your insurance companies dreaming up ways to avoid paying out to people who faithfully paid their premiums for years.

However, judging from a CBS News/New York Times poll done June 20, the average American, whose only agenda is his or her own health, is longingly eyeing a public system. The poll found 72 per cent (including 50 per cent of those identifying as Republican voters)want a government-backed public health-care plan established alongside the private system. Fifty nine per cent think government could keep health-care costs lower than the private sector can, and 50 per cent believe government coverage would be better than what private insurers provide.

A Harvard University study released in 2005 found that 50 per cent of the 1,458,000 personal bankruptcies in the U. S. in 2001 were due to medical bills, with an estimated two million Americans affected each year. Most of these people were caught in a terrible Catch-22, the kind Canadians do not have to contend with, thanks to our public health-care system. These American patients were off work, which meant their health insurance, paid for by their employer, was cut off.

The trouble with America's system is that the horror stories are not the "extreme exceptions." When 50 per cent of Americans who declare bankruptcy do so because they can't pay their medical bills, those are not a few extreme cases.

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