British columnist Janice Turner says “Yes” to the question above in an op-ed for The Times of London.
As the headline of her piece makes evident, Turner is bristling at criticism of the British National Health Service which has become a part of the debate over health care here: “America has no right to speak ill of our NHS: Free healthcare is the mark of a civilised society . . .”
It’s quite human and understandable that Brits are taking umbrage at Americans speaking ill of their system (especially given that, based on my past viewing of UK TV, feeling superior to Americans is almost a national obsession there). Pride of nation is a pretty universal impulse.
It also shouldn’t be a surprise anyone that the merits and/or deficiencies of the NHS (and the Canadian system) are being highlighted by the partisans in the debate—the changes being proposed will lead us to something very similar sooner or later.
I was fascinated by the author’s assertion that providing tax-payer funded health care for everyone is the “civilised” and “Christian” thing for a nation to do. Ms. Turner, however, is glaringly wrong on several key points.
If you get past the touchy snarkiness of the first two paragraphs you find the (accurate) statement that virtually all political parties and politicians of every stripe in the UK support the NHS system.
The fact is, support for the existing system is a matter of political survival because it is indeed wildly popular with the voters. But then redistributionary programs are always popular with those on the receiving end of the redistribution. That popularity doesn’t tell us much about the merits or the morality of the program. By the way, I understand that heroin is wildly popular with heroin addicts.
Both heroin and government largess are highly addictive.
Then Ms. Turner starts piling up red herrings and false assumptions. For example, praising the virtue of the British system, she writes:
It shows that decency, fairness and compassion, the national traits we fear died with nobler generations, live on. That America does not have universal health-care, that 47 million of your citizens live in fear of getting ill, appals and, frankly, baffles us.
I’ll set aside the question of what constitutes superior decency, fairness and compassion and just point out that the 47 million figure that she cites here is the one always thrown around by those trying to make the case that the current system is broken. It is a completely bogus figure. (See why here.) Or this:
Nor is is likely that those without insurance live in any greater fear of getting sick than do insured folks–Ms. Turner’s powers of telepathic empathy notwithstanding.
Existing federal and state programs are designed to give the poor and indigent access to a full range of health care (no compassion or decency points for us from Ms. Turner on this, alas.)
The next paragraph gets to the heart of her argument:
The Republican National Committee can condemn the NHS as Orwellian or evil or “socialised”, but what it is, at root, is Christian.
Really? This gets to something that I plan to build a book around someday. Government expressions of “compassion” tend to be mandatory and coercive. Christian charity is by definition, voluntary. If it’s coerced, it’s neither Christian nor charitable.
As an individual Christian, my faith compels me to reach into my wallet and consider widows and orphans and the poor. What my faith does NOT compel me to do is reach into my neighbors wallet and force him to do the same. In fact it forbids it. But this is precisely what the Christian-ization of public policy does.
Then Ms. Turner goes completely off the rails. She writes:
But unlike the lean NHS, there’s a spare tyre of fat on the system and any Briton who has been treated in America can tell you where it lies: around the bellies of physicians grown corpulent on prescribing unnecessary treatment.
This is nonsense on stilts. It also betrays a profound lack of understanding of the real problem with the current system here. Doctors do indeed routinely order tons of unnecessary tests and treatments–not because they’re greedy–but because they’re terrified of being sued.
Yes, the greatest driver of higher costs and inefficiencies in the American health care system–malpractice suits and class action suits–are rooted in the Trial Lawyers Association. And yet, none of the manifold “reform” proposals bouncing around Congress even acknowledge this problem, much less try to address it.
In the next-to-final paragraph, we get a sudden burst of candor:
In Britain the bureaucracy you fight is the hospital, in America it is in the insurance companies. Dealing with the NHS is like wrestling a Leviathan. The system is trying, rigid, oblique: the endless wait to see a doctor if there is no emergency, the senseless way everything stops at weekends, the noise in the wards, the defining mode of grace under pressure.
Then we read: “But the NHS has one thing about it that is perfect — its underlying principle.”
Well, to each his or her own. I’m not a fan of that underlying principle because I believe it infantilizes people. Perhaps the difference of opinion is rooted in our countries respective histories.
Monarchy and feudalism infantilized regular people. It viewed them as, and made them, helpless wards of the governing authority. Unlike Great Britain, the United States has no history of monarchy and no feudal roots. Perhaps that’s why cradle to grave nanny state care is a harder sell here than there.
In any event, if the President and the Democratic leadership in Congress continue to try to move our health care system in the direction of Great Britain’s, then folks over here are going to examine it and point out its weaknesses.
Hopefully Ms. Turner is civilized enough and Christian enough to deal with that.