Saturday, 15 August 2009

UK Enraged by US Healthcare Portrayal

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.


Proud Brit said...

Great post. I think as much as we're angry that a British polititian would go on foreign media and tell lies about his own country, we're shocked that the US public would believe such BS. They really don't know anything about what goes on outside their own borders do they?

Anonymous said...

I think this twitter response is great, it's about time the British public stood up for British values.

Marc said...

I'll be the first to say that the NHS has some pretty serious problems, but Hannan's description is just ridiculous. Did he not think these lies would get back to his own country? The man is obsessed with America, why doesn't he just move there and become a citizen. Maybe we should revoke his British passport!

Jeff said...

As a Brit, its disappointing to see the NHS subjected to so much misinformed comment in the USA. My own experience is this - four years ago at age 64 I was diagnosed with Leukaemia, admitted to a NHS hospital and commenced treatment the same day. I received excellent in-patient care for a total of five months including a period in a critical ward with 24 hour one to one nurse supervision; if I had to pay the many thousands of pounds all this cost it would have ruined me financially. Even if I had medical insurance, I would have been concerned about running out of benefit. The only minor problem I had during the whole time was having to spend just one night on a bed in a treatment room rather than a ward. No human institution is perfect and the hospital's meals were far from Michelin five star, but the knowledge that good medical care is available without worrying about paying for it is a great comfort, even if waiting is sometimes involved.

John said...

A very intelligent article. Also, the Dutch system has mixed public and private health care options. On the whole, people in Germany and the Netherlands are very happy with these systems. They feature very humane care for the aged and everyone is covered.

Right-wingers often tout the US system as the best in the world. Depending how you define "best" there is a certain truth to this statement. It is true, that wealthy dictators from many countries come here to get treated with the best high-tech medicene in the world. Having stolen money from their own people, they can afford the high quality, high-tech US medicene.

But this precisely illustrates in what way the US does not have the best medicene in the world. If a large percentage of people do not have access to basic medicene because of being uninsured, under-insured or their insurance has reached its maximum life-time coverage, what good does it do them not to be able to afford these services?

Of course, one can argue that you don't care about other people, and say you are satisfied because your insurance is good and you have enough money to pay for extra services, but in the long run society pays for people who do not get basic services when they end up in the emergency room because their conditions have worsened to a life-threatening stage.