One of Obama’s key pledges in the US Presidential elections was major healthcare reforms. The US is a deeply divided nation on health as in many other policy areas – it is simultaneously home to some of the planet’s best hospitals, the best research in medical advances and the best healthcare practioners – and also home to some of the worst poverty and barriers to healthcare, the worst developed-world child mortality rates.
Without being facetious, almost all of my knowledge of the American healthcare system comes from my knowledge of US TV. And whilst House has access to an amazing battery of diagnostic tests, and Grey’s Anatomy shows how competitive training programmes for surgery are, Chicago’s ER is full of hobos having their toes cut off with nail clippers after losing them to frostbite in the snow.
46 million Americans are without healthcare insurance, and so have no access to the top-notch hospitals and treatment, resorting instead to the nailclippers at ER. By no stretch of the imagination are they all tramps.
By trying to address these problems, Obama is picking battles with some very resistant establishments, including highly profitable insurance companies with an essentially closed market. And in doing so, he has stirred up some hornets nests of misinformation claims.
Among these are a number of claims about just how awful the NHS is – as a model of “socialised healthcare” that some Americans want to avoid. They include the bizarre claim that Stephen Hawking would be dead if he had to suffer with NHS level care – all the more bizarre to anyone who knows that Dr Hawking is not, in fact, American and is very happy with the life saving treatment he receives on the NHS.
The strange claims for UK healthcare have prompted an online campaign on Twitter of people talking about the excellent care they have received and marking their words with the tag #welovetheNHS.
It’s one of the great shibboleths of UK politics. Everyone knows there are still improvements to be made in the NHS, but when some upstart colony starts critising it on the basis of misunderstood facts, we should all leap to its defence.
A few other posts on blogs I have read in the last few days make interesting reading: on the ObamaLondon blog, LDV’s friend Karin Robinson is doing her bit to debunk some myths. And Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England provides an historical perspective of the UK’s own battles to introduce “socialised healthcare” in the 1910s:
“If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England.”
Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that “we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past,” and writing feelingly of “these days of highly paid servants”.
The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds.
Some things never change.