This is how much the developed countries spent per capita on healthcare a few years ago, contrasted with average life-expectancy:
This is what privatisation with a vast government subsidy looks like–a perfect study in neoliberalism and the truth behind republican free market rhetoric. And it translates directly into how much my family has suffered over years without healthcare, and have continued to suffer even after achieving the insurance dream–large deductions from tiny paychecks, deductibles, unbelievable monthly medication costs.
All this in a country that has spent immensely more per capita on health care than any other, without actually providing it.
All this in a country where HMO profits have reached billions every year, even through the crisis. A desultory google search brings up Minnesota doctors protesting obscene HMO profits this year, the doubling of California profits in 2008, for the Bush years there’s a Senate investigation, and if you really want to vomit, the “good news” that 2010 profits bring and how they are achieved in Florida. All for a life expectancy that just beats Cuba who spends pennies compared to us, but provides what free healthcare it can to all of its residents.
Mum is now 66 years old. She suffers from heart problems that landed her in ER numerous times last year, and yet she’s still working 12 hour night shifts at a hospital as a tech. The principal reason? The health insurance–even though she pays more for less coverage every year–because it’s slightly better than Medicare. The secondary reason is the money, because social security doesn’t quite cover costs. But I don’t know that my parents ever were able to cover costs.
I can’t help but wonder how different our lives would have been if dad had joined mum in the UK when they married, rather than she joining him here. If all of us had had regular health coverage. At 67, my father’s short lifespan doesn’t even register on this graph. The report continues to note that the relatively low life expectancy for the US is probably due to the inequalities in this country, reflecting that it is an average between very different life-expectancies that correlate to income, education, and race. African-Americans as a group wouldn’t make it onto this graph either, their average age at death is just over 70.
So it should come as no surprise that the “British fear ‘American-style’ healthcare system” as a recent LA Times article proclaimed. It’s a very real issue in the UK as the new coalition government is attempting reform. In a nutshell the Lansley Bill would transfer the responsibility for providing a comprehensive health service from the Secretary of State to a board made up of representatives of private and public authorities. It is indeed the first step to privatisation, however much the government tries to deny it. The article quotes David Cameron as trying to mollify a hostile public saying “We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system.” An indictment of America as well as an ingenuous statement, as this bill can only open the floodgates.
The LA Times article ends like this:
Doctors’ groups will no doubt say one thing, patients’ advocates another. In the end, lawmakers will probably approve a messy healthcare compromise that will anger many and please few. Which just goes to show that maybe Britain and America aren’t so different after all.
Which is also disingenuous. They are vastly different, in that the UK tax-payer’s money currently goes directly to providing services, not corporate profit sheets. In that people live longer, and the severe inequalities seen in America don’t exist. I can’t begin to tell you what it’s like to be able to just drop in to see your doctor and not have to worry about how you will pay. It is not just the length of life at stake, but its quality. My parents went through hell over our broken bones and fevers, and it is still hell now that my mother is older and ill. These are things you never forget, and never forgive. I will take Britain, thank you very much.
The article also implies that there are many sides to this, when in fact the opposition in the UK is becoming pretty damn united: Doctors have come out wholesale in opposition to the bill. Local individuals, community groups and unions are fighting back. Together.
There is a national Keep Our NHS Public group, and South London (the place I know and love best) is doing it’s bit. Lewisham KONP started up in January and has been growing in leaps and bounds, and the Lambeth KONP is now getting off the ground with Lewisham’s support. These local groups are starting up everywhere. Everyone acknowledges that the NHS needs changes, but not an ideological turn to market principles. Even old Maggie Thatcher didn’t dare to muck about with the NHS, we’re doing our best to teach David Cameron that he can’t either.
I’ll end on a literal high note with what is probably one of my favourite reactions to the bill; people really aren’t pleased at all with Health Secretary Andrew Lansley: