Saturday, August 15, 2009

Britain's "evil" health care system

As anyone who has not been on vacation for the last few months somewhere in the outer reaches of the solar system knows, the debate over health care reform in the United States has heated up. Lately it has gotten smoking hot with organized protests and even disruptive behavior at town hall meetings across the country. People on both sides of this debate are getting very charged and making highly exaggerated claims. Sometimes these border on hysteria.

Case in point; recently former Alaska governor and GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin referred to Britain's system of national health insurance as evil. This charge including that word have since been picked up by numerous other critics of proposed health reform. Now one might expect a demagogue and professional wind bag like Rush Limbaugh to make those kinds of remarks. But Palin is widely seen as having very high political ambitions. Those kinds of remarks are depressing because they demonstrate a lack of restraint and gravitas on the part of people who are leading the debate on one of the most important legislative reforms our country has considered since the civil rights laws of the 1960's.

Oddly no one seems to care that someone many Republicans hope to one day see run for President has seriously ticked off our country's closest ally. Although it has gotten little play in our media and press, in Britain public opinion was deeply shocked buy Palin's harsh remarks. Many Britons have responded in language that can't be printed on a Christian blog. But in summary there seems to be a consensus that Palin is a bloody idiot who is not ready for this country's top job. This does not bode well should she seek the presidency. But I digress.

My own views on health care reform are somewhat mixed. Excepting radical libertarians I think there is a general agreement that our system is gravely flawed and in need of some sort of intervention. The U.S. health care system has been consistently ranked for decades near the bottom of developed nations by the World Health Organization and International Red Cross. Costa Rica is ranked higher than us! But beyond acknowledging that we have a mess there is almost no agreement on what to do about it.

For my part I will not be able to support any legislation that provides for state funded abortion or mandates abortion coverage by private insurers. Beyond which, I am reserving judgment until I see what Congress produces in actual bills. I don't mind a debate. But let's all tone down the rhetoric a bit.

In closing I thought I would post a comment from T-19 by someone who is no raving liberal about Britain's "evil" National Health Service...
This debate arouses such strong feelings in the US that I am a little scared to contribute here, let alone kick off. But I feel I have to. Along with a lot of people in the UK I have been surprised to see our health care system held up by US critics and trashed. Often the information is inaccurate. And lots of people over here have been dismayed, and indeed angered, to see Daniel Hannan MEP joining in the mauling. Traitor is among the words some have apparently been applying to him. By contrast here are some of my most recent experiences. I may have to wait two or even three days to see my physician (if I say it is urgent, he will see me that day). I have had blood tests and a CT scan. For both I just walked into the hospital and waited: 10 minutes for the blood test, one hour for the scan. I am on medication for hypertension and (typical of men my age) benign prostate hyperplasia. All of this costs me nothing, except what I pay through my taxes. All of it has been readily and easily available. A friend’s son lost a leg in a road accident: he had nothing but praise for the acute care his son received, including a high-tech artificial leg. All free. The really big things seem to be done well: organ transplants, intensive care, heart surgery, orthopaedics and paediatrics.

Often it is, paradoxically, the simpler things that seem to be problems in the NHS. It has too many administrators. Cleanliness and hygiene have sometimes been substandard. And yes, unless there is manifest urgency, sometimes you have to wait. Care of the terminally ill has not been brilliant, but we have developed and nurtured a growing hospice movement for this which is run independently usually by local charities. I think that oncology provision is spotty, good in some regions, not in others. Geriatrics is regarded us unromantic and a low priority, and therefore is chronically underfunded. People would prefer a private or shared room in place of the wards they are stuck in, with their lack of privacy and mixing at times of the sexes. Food is often ghastly. And yes, sadly, the state funds abortion.

So: the British NHS presents a mixed picture. But not, please note, the hideous caricature that is sometimes portrayed right now in the US as part of the fierce debate about health care reform.
-Terry Tee from T-19


Ed said...

While my sentiments on many issues are not even close to those of either party, I tend to line up a little better with the Republicans than the Democrats. Nevertheless, Sarah Palin has made me cringe from day one. While I have my doubts that I could ever vote conscientiously for a pro-choice candidate, if the Republicans put Palin forward in 2012, I'll have a lot of trouble voting Nobama. Maybe I'll vote for a third party.

Anonymous said...

"Excepting radical libertarians I think there is a general agreement that our system is gravely flawed and in need of some sort of intervention."

The "radical" libertarians also think our system is gravely flawed, but would like to see changes in the form of removing a lot of the government involvement that they (we?) see as causing most of the problems in the first place.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The trouble with the Health Insurance REform, as Mr. Obama now dubs it (insurance reform, not care reform) is that it doesn't actually address what's actually wrong with our system, namely, greed and corruption.

What's wrong with our system is (for example) neurosurgeons making millions of dollars a month, a stomach-feeding kit (lancet, rubber tube, several gauze pads) costing $1,000, a solution of iodine in the Emergency Room costing $1,500, and so forth.

Nobody of any party is even talking about the real problems.

The tip-off that we are going to see cosmetic changes only, without any real change, is that you see insurance companies, drug companies, and physicians all backing this "reform." They wouldn't do it if they stood to lose anything. Which means they'll all continue to make obscene profits at our expense.

Anonymous said...

I like the free market. It's a wonderful tool, but this tool doesn't result in good then we use a different tool. Medicine is likely the most inelastic marketplace possible (how inelastic is life or death?). I completely disagree with those who say the problem is government involvement.

We would have nothing but herba-life and chiropractors in this country if it weren't for government regulation. What amazes me most is that with so many altruistic people who get into health care that the evil that also involves itself is able to still make it the most corrupt marketplace after Wall Street.

I would, in my desperate attempts to remain as conservative as possible, prefer the states take care of their own, but apparently they are all bankrupt and unable to care for themselves.

So conservative idealism gives way to independent pragmatism, again.

Suppliers will have to accept lower profit margins. Some standards will have to be lowered (no marble floors in the hospital entrance). Doctors will have to see their profession as a service again. Lawsuits will have to be decommissioned as lotteries. And folks will have to confront the fact that we won't spend millions of dollars to keep the alive another few months. The conversations about exactly how much and to whom certain prohibitively expensive treatments go will be ugly and uncomfortable, but there it is.