The US healthcare debate came to the UK in a very explosive way yesterday, when video of a British politician slagging off the NHS spread across the internets like wildfire. It was the twitterati who first started spreading the word, creating tags like #welovetheNHS to defend the NHS from this particular Tory politician, who happens to be a member of the European Parliament. My previous blog post on this subject has made the rounds pretty heavily on that tag actually.
The US media tour by Conservative MEP Dan Hannan has created a huge headache for Conservative leader David Cameron, who was scrambling yesterday to assert his love for the NHS and describe Dan Hannan as a fringe politician with "extreme views". The message is clear: the British National Health Service is a cherished institution in the UK, and politicians left or right criticise it at their peril. Whether this sort of "love it or leave it" mentality is helpful is debatable, but one thing is clear - any Briton can tell you that Dan Hannan's portrayal of the NHS doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to reality.
His description of the NHS, seen in this video above from Fox News, is so outrageously made-up that the Labour party - long trailing in the polls and virtually guaranteed to lose the next election - has pounced on it to show that the Conservative party can't be trusted with the NHS because they intend to make drastic cuts (Blair used the same argument in '97). The political headache for Cameron grew to such a fever pitch yesterday that some analysts were predicting that Cameron might sack Hannan from the partyand hence he would be out of the European Parliament). I know plenty in Brussels who would be relieved at this prospect, as Hannan has a long history of causing trouble in Strasbourg. But we'll see if the pressure remains through the weekend.
Of course as I pointed out in my previous healthcare blog post, the fact that the US media is focusing on the NHS at all doesn't make any sense. The healthcare plan being proposed by Obama and the US congress is not a single-payer system as exists in the UK Canada or France, but rather a hybrid multi-payer system as exists in Germany. Germany has a universal multi-payer system with two main types of health insurance: the public fund and private funds. Everyone is mandated to have healthcare, which is provided by the public fund to people below a set income level for a low rate. So, the wealthy can pay for exceptional private health coverage if they want to, or they can pay a small amount for the state insurance (many opt to do this). The end result is that everyone is covered and Germany spends 10% of GDP on health care, compared to 16% in the US. Obviously Germany would be the better example for the US media to use, yet the country, to my knowledge, has never been once by the US mainstream media.
This whole US "debate" (if you can call it that) has just been downright painful to watch, and has reminded me just how lucky I am to live in Europe. What's really unfortunate is that the hysteria and lies in the US are drowning out any actual debate on this bill - which will create one of two results. A bill will be passed without that perhaps lacks restraining measures that would have been helpful to it, or no bill will be passed which will represent the triumph of the mob, the victory of misinformation over reason. It's really a very sad thing to watch.
As for the British, perhaps watching the way this whole thing is unfolding in the US will make them feel a little more European. After all, this is one of those crucial ways in which the UK is much closer to the continent than to America. And the British should be grateful for it.