The worldwide recession has forced countries around the world to curb public spending — or risk defaulting on their debt.
The United Kingdom is the latest to tighten its belt. The National Health Service (NHS) — the centralized public agency that runs Britain’s government healthcare system — is being forced to shave $31 billion from its budget by 2015.
These cuts are leading to a precipitous drop in the quality of care patients receive. The NHS has been living well beyond its means for quite awhile. And now brutal government-enforced cost controls are exacting a heavy human toll.
Thanks to Obamacare, America will soon face the same sort of reckoning.
Other nations with government-dominated healthcare systems offer a preview of the fiscal woes and substandard care that lie ahead thanks to the president’s spendthrift reform plan.
In order to realize some savings, the NHS is raising the threshold at which patients qualify for treatment and lengthening wait times for surgeries determined “non-lifesaving.” The Service is also cutting more than 20,000 NHS jobs over the next two years and shuttering a number of hospitals.
Patients are feeling the pain. For decades, they’ve turned over substantial portions of their hard-earned paychecks as taxes — and accepted “free”
health care from the government in return. (This is how it works) Only about 11 percent of Britons pay for their care privately.
They’ve foregone cutting-edge medical treatments available in the United States, told by their leaders that these new therapies were no better than the old ones — just more expensive. At least in Britain, they thought, everyone has access to basic health care. That has to be better than the situation in America, where tens of millions of people lack health insurance, right?
Hardly. The British healthcare system may “guarantee” access to care — but that doesn’t mean patients actually receive it.
Take the case of David Evans, a 69-year-old farmer living in Cornwall, in southwest England. About a year ago, he developed a hernia and needed an operation. Despite government requirements that he receive treatment within 18 weeks of diagnosis, he still hasn’t been treated.
Recently, he had to use his own ultrasound equipment — typically used to examine pregnant sheep — to check the hernia himself and determine if it was getting worse.
“I was in quite a lot of pain,” explained Evans. “There will be many more people like me who are suffering and are now being forced to wait quite a long time.”
The law furnishes all Britons — Evans included — with health insurance. But he might as well not have coverage at all — because he’s certainly not getting any care.
A report released in October by Britain’s health regulator found that a stunning 20 percent of hospitals were failing to provide the minimum standard of care legally required for elderly patients.
As part of the study, inspectors dropped by dozens of hospitals unannounced. They found patients shouting or banging on bedrails desperately trying to get the attention of a nurse. At one hospital, inspectors identified bed-ridden patients that hadn’t been given water for over 10 hours.
The upcoming austerity measures will only amplify maladies like these.
The NHS is broken — and not in some superficial way that a simple tweak would fix. The incentives are wrong. The government’s main priority is keeping costs low — not providing quality care. Patients can’t choose how they receive their care — it’s one-size-fits-all medicine. And the entrenched NHS bureaucracy has no reason to improve efficiency.
The problems with “universal” health care aren’t confined to Britain. Canada’s single-payer, government-run system — where any private health care is outlawed under the Canada Health Act — is similarly failing its patients.
The Health Council of Canada recently surveyed over three thousand patients and found that those with chronic illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease were largely dissatisfied with the medical care they received. Less than half of respondents with such conditions reported that the care they received was excellent or very good.
But aren’t they getting it for free? Shouldn’t they be grateful?
Not really. Despite the massive taxes Canadians remit to finance universal care, they still must pay out of pocket for some services. Nearly a quarter of chronically ill respondents said that they had skipped their medications or neglected to fill a prescription because it was too expensive.
Further, many Canadians travel to the United States and pay out of pocket for treatments and procedures, as they feel the wait in Canada is too long and harmful to their health.
The American health system is far from perfect. But it’s wrong to think that government can fix it.
The socialized systems found up North or across the Atlantic are proof.
We need more market forces in our medical sector — not more government controls.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Her next book — The Pipes Plan: The Top Ten Ways to Dismantle and Replace Obamacare (Regnery) — will be released in January 2012.
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