12 August 2009

Public Health Care -- an Anecdotal Account

There's a common belief among Americans, which I believe is almost entirely the result of deliberate disinformational propaganda, that in countries which have universal, fair public health care, such as the UK, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, etc.,* people resent the public systems and receive unreasonably rationed, substandard care. (This bad reputation is most often attached to the UK's National Health Service, probably because there is a segment of society (some rich people) in the UK that opts for private medical care). Anecdotal evidence must always be discounted, but this account, published in TPM today, certainly shows that the automatic assumption that "public" health care automatically means "lousy" health care should not be taken for granted:

I am an middle aged, white male American who lives in the UK working for a medium sized US company. The following is a true story about my many years experience of the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK, only the names have been changed to protect the identity of my family.

I live with my wife and son just outside of London. When our son Leo was due to be born, like virtually every family in the UK (rich or poor), we went to our local NHS hospital for the delivery. An unpredictable chain of events resulted in unforeseeable complications during his birth. Leo was born in very poor health and was immediately transferred to a SCBU (Special Care Birth Unit) in another hospital. Because of the severity of Leo's condition we were transferred to the most advanced SCBU in the region.

Leo spent the next three weeks in the SCBU being cared for 24/7 by highly trained nursing staff using the latest technology and a team was formed with about a dozen specialists from around the country working together to ensure Leo's many complex problems were dealt with using the best medical knowledge available. As parents we stayed with Leo in the parents residence just down the hall from the SCBU. Our room was basic, but it had cable TV and we got clean bedding and towels as well as three meals a day for three weeks. How much did all of this cost? I will never know because as a UK resident and taxpayer it was provided as a public service. By the time Leo was three months old it was obvious he was experiencing many very difficult problems. Leo was referred to one of the top specialists in Europe, a professor consultant in neonatal neurology. The professor determined Leo needed a MRI scan, but because of Leo's small size and constant abnormal movement, no existing scanner could safely be used. It was decided the newest and fastest scanner in the country would be modified to accommodate Leo's situation. When we arrived for the scan we were greeted not only by the professor and her team but by a team of technicians and scientists from the manufacturer. The MRI magnets were partially dismantled and recalibrated and a frame for Leo was built on the spot so he could safely undergo the scanning procedure. How much did all of this cost? I will never know because as a UK resident and taxpayer it was provided as a public service. The scan showed that Leo had received a profound brain injury before birth. He had many different tests to determine the extent of his disabilities including EEG, X-ray, video fluoroscopy, endoscopy, sight tests, hearing tests, and others. Leo was referred to eight different specialists to deal with his problems and underwent surgery to implant a portal in his stomach so he can be fed directly by tube, without danger of food being "swallowed" into his lungs. Leo's dietary requirements are very special and all food, as well as the daily feeding kits and the pump needed to deliver the feed are provided by the NHS. Leo is on about a dozen different medications and all meds, syringes and other daily disposable equipment are provided by the NHS. Leo has a wheelchair, sitting frame, standing frame, sleep system, leg and hand splints and other equipment, all designed for him and all replaced or adjusted every few months because he is a growing boy. All equipment as well as the technicians who maintain the equipment are provided by the NHS. How much does all of this cost? I will never know because as a UK resident and taxpayer it was provided as a public service. Is the NHS perfect? Far from it! Can it be more bureaucratic and slower than I would like at times? Of course! Has there ever been an issue about Leo not receiving care because he is profoundly disabled? Never! Have we ever had to stand before a "Death Panel" and justify the vast ongoing expense of Leo's care, even though he will never be a productive member of society? NO! When surveys ask people what is the single thing they are proudest about the UK, the winner is The National Health Service.
* There are so many... in the developed world, other than here, health care is generally considered a right.
Of course, what the NHS is is universal public service health care, which according to the right-wing framing we all blithely accept, is misleadingly called "single payer" in this country. We're so benighted with right wing propaganda in this country that (almost) no one in public life is even proposing such a system. Yet the unsatisfactory compromise with the health care denial and profiteering industry (inaccurately referred to as "insurance") being proposed is being labeled as "socialism," "fascism," etc. etc., and the outrageous antics of the far right are actually being acknowledged as politically effective, as in likely to result in still more watering down of reform.

Sometimes it's just unbelievable to me what our country has come to.

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