As Obama pushes new regulations, UK eyes privatizing its health care
Filmmaker Michael Moore glorified the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in his 2007 documentary “Sicko,” making a cult film argument that socialized medicine works. But Prime Minister David Cameron, the Tory MP who heads a coalition government in England, is apparently not a Moore fan: He is working to partially privatize the NHS, beginning a massive outsourcing of medical services to private health care providers throughout the U.K.
Britain’s media, in particular the Washington Post–Huffington Post hybrid The Guardian, is publishing near-panic-attacks alerts daily about the conservative plan, which comes as the British government scales back on entitlement spending, hoping to avoid a Greek-style financial meltdown.
But in the United States, left-wing enthusiasts of socialized medicine don’t seem bothered at the loss of a role model. Many won’t even acknowledge it.
“I handle media and public relations for the Catholic Health Association,” Fred Caesar told The Daily Caller. “We will pass on commenting.” Caesar is special assistant to the president of the CHA, a vocal advocate of President Obama’s health care overhaul.
Major U.S. media are also ignoring the story. As Cameron’s own health reform bill gathers momentum and heads for a vote in Parliament, online searches show no coverage at all of Britain’s move in The Washington Post or The New York Times.
‘Taken out and shot’
Contrast this with U.K. media, which is pressuring Cameron to drop his plans. Major medical societies — including the Royal College of General Practitioners — and the rest of Britain’s medical establishment is shouting for Cameron to cease and desist.
The British public has a fear of privatization founded on the idea that doctors “might become dependent on advice from powerful private health companies,” and that the free-market competition laws could replace “public service principles” as the NHS’s central operating principle, The Guardian reported this week. (RELATED: Full coverage of the US Affordable Care Act)
Even the Times of London, a liberal broadsheet that is still normally restrained in its commentary, opined that Cameron’s health secretary Andrew Lansley should be “taken out and shot” for moving the bill through the House of Commons.
Sally Pipes, an American health policy expert who leads the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, told TheDC that President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will likely ignore any changes in U.K. health policy. Their allies in the U.S. media and public policy establishment, she said, would follow suit.
“They are ideologues,” Pipes said. “They don’t care whether the system really works or not. They have an ideological goal in mind.”
Pipes notes that the system of socialized medicine in the U.K., and a similar one in Canada, is viable only for routine visits to the doctor, but not for chronic illnesses like cancer or kidney disease. A few years ago in Canada, she said, her own mother could not get a simple colonoscopy scheduled for several months, despite searing abdominal pain.
When Pipes’ mother started bleeding, she was rushed to the emergency room and finally given the colonoscopy — which indicated that she had colorectal cancer. It was too late for treatment at that point, though, and she died shortly thereafter.
“They keep down costs by rationing medicine and medical services,” Pipes explained.
Joseph A. Morris, a former Reagan White House lawyer who now serves on the board of the American Conservative Union, told TheDC that socialized medicine has turned out to be a threat to Britons’ health, and to their economy as well.
“Europe’s message to the world is no longer that the socialist dream of the cradle-to-grave welfare state is an easy achievement,” Morris said. “Rather, it is the shouted warning that it is a fool’s paradise. The bills are coming due and the only real alternatives — serious financial reform of government or national bankruptcy — are not pleasant.”
Morris added that the British government, “unlike the Obama administration, is hearing the warnings, identifying its greatest vulnerabilities, and trying to race ahead of the deluge.”
Obama’s solution for the health care industry, the controversial Affordable Care Act, has already been ruled unconstitutional in federal courts and is headed for a Supreme Court showdown this spring. Given the timing, it has been a consistent presidential campaign issue.
Last week former Sen. Rick Santorum, who was among the earliest advocates of private health savings accounts when he served in Congress, aimed a health-care jab at his main GOP rival, former Gov. Mitt Romney.
“Gov. Romney is dead wrong on the issue of the day and he should not be the nominee of the party,” Santorum said in a campaign stop in Minnesota near the Mayo Clinic. Repealing the Obama health care plan is “central to our country,” Santorum told a cheering crowd, and “central to this race — specifically why Gov. Romney is absolutely incapable of making the case against Obamacare successfully.”
As the White House’s model for health reform hits roadblock after roadblock, a Gallup poll released Wednesday shows that small business owners are losing confidence in Obama’s plan. Forty-eight percent point to potential health care costs and another 46 percent point to government regulations as reasons to abandon the president’s agenda.
Even if Britain’s NHS and other state-run health systems were replaced with something more capitalistic, other socialist models can be found on any world map for future U.S. policy experiments.
“Cuba has recently allowed some private elements into their health care system,” said Pipes. “But North Korea is still completely state run.”