Monday, August 17, 2009

Healthcare hysteria in the USA

I'm in the middle of it and it's ugly. Obama is doing the rounds with his naughty national healthcare talk (well, almost), and folks are going quite batty with fear. First there is the ceremonial euthanasia, remisicent of Logan's Run, except the talk is that they will let us live until we are 75 rather than knock us off at 30. Second is the notion that we will be forced to see second rate doctors, and never, ever, ever, get to see our favorite family physician again (this might be true, but for different reasons; most family docs are having a hard time making it because of outrageous overheads caused by the inefficiencies in the current hopeless system. With national healthcare, we might see more of that family doc..), third is the notion that we have to wait for years to get treatment and when we finally get there, they only give us generics that don't work (partly true; the UK goes for good of the many versus good of the few, a notion worth serious contemplation as there are solid arguments for and against), fourth is simply that well, if you get really sick, then you will just be left to die (Sarah Lyall, in the New York Times last Sunday pointed out that someone had said Stephan Hawking himself would never have survived so long had he been imprisoned in the UK National Health Service. Stephan Hawking responded that, as he actually lives in the UK, the protraction of his life under such challenging circumstances was indeed due, in large part, to the UK National Health Service). A fifth topic of hysteria is the idea that once we have a National Health System (if we ever do), then we will all be forced to use it. Massachusetts didn't do us any favors here with its compulsory healthcare plan punishable by a fine if you don't buy in and get insured. In the UK, the NHS is the default. You can get any care at no cost save for the small amount of 'National Insurance' you pay each month into the big Health Care Kitty. Its taken automatically as part of taxes so no-one misses it and probably half the population don't even know they pay it. For those so inclined, there is always a private option. Most companies offer private insurance and most employees take advantage of it if only as a back up to the NHS when the waiting line is too long.
Of all the aspects of the UK that I miss the most, the NHS is probably the thing I took most for granted and now wish I had. I know people who skip physicals because they can't afford the co-pay, I know people who have lost their houses to pay for the medical expense of a serious illness. Others I know will be in debt for the rest of their lives because after a nasty car accident the insurance ran out after the first year of re-hab. There is good medicine practiced here, and there are pockets of goodness on the system, but overall, give me the NHS anyday, long waits and all.