Sunday, September 6, 2009

An American health-care skeptic defends the NHS

Although the NHS might not be the role model Americans are looking for, the government-run British health-care system is not evil.

Previously published by Blogcritics

With the health care debate raging in the U.S. currently, the spotlight has been thrown on Britain's National Health Service, NHS for short. 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 due to cost-cutting.
But the NHS, despite its struggles, does the best that it can, burdened such 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 as well as, due to the aforementioned socialist nature of it, 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, views are bound to change a little.
In May 2005, I had a serious kidney stone attack and I 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 the 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, and with more and more people living in Britain, it has shown signs of incompetence. But private health care exists in Britain, for those that demand it, and even that is considerably cheaper than American health care. Unlike Canada, Britain does not demand that everyone use their 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 exludes 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 idiosyncracies of health care. I obviously do not intend to do that. In fact, my knowledge of the intracacies 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 that 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 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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