14 August 2009

Sticking plaster solutions

President Obama's decision to re-open the debate over Healthcare is certainly brave, and one that has had a surprising impact on this side of the Atlantic. Watching the US debate on "Socialised Medicine" from the UK, we have been presented with soundbites from a series of right wing commentators pouring a non-stop stream of abuse upon our hapless National Health Service. No doubt that perception is just as lopsided as the "facts" being promoted by those opposed to Mr Obama's project.

Until this point I had no idea that our system of healthcare was evil. Not just evil, but akin to the Nazi Final Solution. It will probably come as something of a surprise to those hard-working nurses at my local hospital when they realise they are latter-day Joseph Mengeles. It feels a bit like your neighbour is having an argument with his wife over which car they should buy, and so he takes a picture of your car, and shows it to her saying: "Is this the awful piece of shit you want to drive? Only a psychopath would drive such a car. You are such an idiot for wanting this car". When his wife can't even drive.

Leaving aside the idiocies of the arguments over how long it takes to get a hip replacement in the UK, I have been intrigued by two main aspects of this debate. The first is: why the UK? Almost all countries have some form of government-backed collectivised healthcare support, why pick on the NHS as the worst? I'm not an expert, but I am willing to believe that the NHS can provide a better standard of care than, for example, North Korea (I'm assuming North Korea has a state run health service). I note Fox News didn't try uncovering horror stories from Sweden, France or Germany where things run rather well, even if they do cost a lot of money.

The second is this false opposition generated by the debate: free market healthcare vs. socialised medicine. To caricature the debate, if the government starts to pick up the tab for healthcare like in the UK, the days of Sodom and Gomorrah will be upon America. Now I've been to many parts of the USA, and I have never seen anyone dying on the streets. Or even slightly injured, begging for medicine. In fact, if you do get ill and have no health insurance, contrary to popular European perception, you don't get thrown in a bin and taken away. A hospital will treat you, and the government will pick up the bill via one route or another.

In fact, if you have a moment, the US government spends a greater proportion of national income on healthcare provision for its citizens than the UK does - a little above 7%. According to Federal Government projections, by 2019, at the current rate of spending, Medicare (the US government programme for retirees health provision) will absorb one quarter of all US Federal income taxes. Therefore the answer to the question "do you want socialised medicine?" is actually "we've already got it, thanks".

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