Why does America fear the NHS?
On the 5th of July 1948 Anuerin Bevan established the National Health Service with the following message to medical practitioners:
On 5th July we start together, the new National Health Service. It has not had an altogether trouble-free gestation! There have been understandable anxieties, inevitable in so great and novel an undertaking. Nor will there be overnight any miraculous removal of our more serious shortages of nurses and others and of modern replanned buildings and equipment. But the sooner we start, the sooner we can try together to see to these things and to secure the improvements we all want . . . My job is to give you all the facilities, resources and help I can, and then to leave you alone as professional men and women to use your skill and judgement without hindrance. Let us try to develop that partnership from now.
Since then the National Health Service has treated Britons, regardless of age/creed/financial status, from cradle to grave it is in my humble opinion one of the most important organisations and services we have in Britain. So why does the American right seem to despise it so?
The most obvious answer seems to be a deep ingrained distrust or fear of socialism probably a result of the cold war years. Although not just as a direct fear of “red’s under the bed” or some sort of ingrained (although ultimately castrated) form of McCarthyism that fears and despises the Commies and the Reds. No perhaps more the result of adopting an oppositional economic ideology thus to admit that socialised healthcare might be a good idea would be an affront not only to the American rights economic ideology but because it’s so entwined with their ideas of freedom and democracy it becomes an affront to democracy itself. See my blog post here for a bit more on this idea…
There are a number of batshit insane reasons given for why the NHS is bad – from claiming it would kill Stephen Hawking and we would thusly loose his genius if he lived in England (Um which he has all his life and spectacularly enough isn’t dead… You know thanks to a little thing called the NHS…) to every ones favourite pitbull Sarah Palin labelling the NHS evil for it’s use of death panels. No I have no idea what that might mean either… Unless it’s a reference to how resources are allocated within the NHS? Perhaps she meant to say “postcode lottery” but just added a dose of batshit lunacy and decided that a healthcare system based on the NHS would be akin to Stalinist Russia?
Anyway it seems clear to me that these “death panels” of which Palin speaks would not be “unique” to the Stalinist UK they will exist under the American insurance system also. I suppose the only difference is instead you will get a “death contract” with your insurance plan detailing which illnesses you can expect to be covered for and which you can’t. “Didn’t buy insurance against HIV? Well sorry, hope you enjoy your AIDS as we don’t cover antiretrovirals…” A glib example but I hope you get the point.
Resource management isn’t something that just happens under a government run or tax driven system the insurers will want to make a profit afterall and may not wish to pay for experimental treatments (which also happens within the NHS) or to cover care for certain diseases.
There is a fair bit of hoo-haw in this country about the idea of “postcode lotteries” in healthcare. The idea that the treatment you will receive is somehow randomly determined by your postcode. This is a popular bit of media hyperbole and to my mind a twisting of the facts. The NHS has a budget not an unlimited pot of gold it’s run by people not leprechauns. Thus it has to make sure this money is spent in the most effective way – this means looking at local needs and addressing them. This may give the appearance of a “postcode lottery” or “death panel” but really it’s just to ensure the majority of people receive the treatments they need. An unfortunate side-effect of this is that some people can’t get some treatments in some places that they could in others. But a “one-size fits all” health service is not necessarily the way forward.
All of the reasons offered by the American right as to why the NHS is “evil” can be described as “factoids” in the manner orignially coined by Norman Mailer.
A factoid is an assertion of fact that is not backed up by evidence, usually because the fact is false or because evidence in support of the assertion cannot be obtained.
The problem with factoids is that even when they appear nonsensical they can take root; For example how many people to this day maintain Paul McCartney is actually dead? Or that there was a conspiracy to demolish WTC7? Elliot Aronson and Anthony Pratakis, in their book “age of propoganda”, hold that factoids have been a part of political life since the birth of the United States (and presumably before) being a major component of “whispering campaigns. A whsipering campaign being a deliberate attempt to discredit something or someone by starting outlandish rumours and disseminating factoids to the masses. For modern examples of how this occurs and proceeds check out the Daily Mail and it’s live action cousin Fox News.
Factoids are usually simple in their construction and often rely on us making quick snap connections. They tend to use emotive language and sometimes take the forms of appeals to our “better nature”. They are most definatly pernicious and we need to be vigilant to spot them. They can however be combatted by engaging our brains and seeking out the evidence for ourselves.
So rather then hyperbole, lies, factoids and ignorance why don’t we look at some interesting stats?
Per capita spending on health ($)
Doctors per 10,000 pop
Nurses and midwives per 10,000 pop
Hospital beds per 10,000 pop
Life expect. at birth
So the NHS costs less per capita, manages to provide more hospital beds and no doubt contributes to an increase of two years life expectancy compared with America.
It is estimated that between 46-54 Million Americans are without health insurance (approx. 18% of the population) and it has been suggested that the impact of the recession will leave 57-60 Million without cover due to unemployment; the worst case scenario has been projected as 66 million people. That’s 66 million people who might not have access to healthcare beyond emergency provision. In the UK it is estimated, that due to the recession medical care will remain free at the point of care…
The number of uninsured people in the US is also increasing no doubt due in large part to increases of 119% (for employer cover) and 117% (for employees cover) in insurance premiums since 1999. In the UK you can’t really opt out of the National Insurance system and taxes are as certain as a later then US types thanks to the NHS death so you’r covered whether you want to be or not.
When I started this post I was outraged at the outpouring of outright lies and ignorance from the American right about the NHS. Now I am outraged about the plight of the American people who have limited or no access to healthcare. The figures above make for horrific reading if you ask me; healthcare is a right not a privilege.
For a country that declared:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
it’s more then sad to see you disregard the founding principles of your nation to defend a corporatist health system.