Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Fun

Right. Maybe I'm missing something? Except I don't really think so. I've been absolutely shocked by the vehemence, rudeness, and violence with which many Americans are greeting Obama's healthcare proposals. Although the proposals themselves haven't had much press over here, the violence has (see the Times here, and the BBC here (a little more out there), and the Guardian here). And it's generating what has become a concerted movement by the UK government, who feel they now have to defend the NHS against American criticism, both to the US and to UK citizens themselves (see Will's blog entries here and here for commentary and links to media reactions). There's even a "we love the nhs" twitter campaign.

So. I know that free healthcare is not perfect. I live in the UK. I use the NHS. It takes two weeks to get x-rays back. It takes a week to get the results of mono test (what if it had been mono? um...well, oops). But. It's free. FREEEEE. And although it's slow and has lots of things wrong with it, I'd argue that it's no more messed up than the US system (although I did love Kaiser...sigh...30 minutes for blood test results) -- just different and wider-reaching in a wonderful way. If you're interested in what I feel is a well-written quick account of an American's experience with the NHS -- that is, decent and adequate but not always perfect -- see here.

I suppose that I'm puzzled here not by the particulars of the new health care proposals (which could probably use some work -- although what many people are failing to realise is that there are many points in the bill that have bipartisan support), but by the insane shouting match that's followed. Since when has opposing the right to basic health care, whether provided by the government or otherwise, become a matter of patriotism and nation-bashing? As the NYT put it, "Many Republicans view fighting the president as a smart political strategy, turning a potentially wonkish debate over Medicare reimbursement rates and subsidies for the uninsured into an ideological battle over the government’s role in health care."

So this clearly isn't about health care, at least not for the people who are brawling at town hall meetings. They forget that the government already spends quite a lot of money on their health care, especially if they're retired, a veteran, or disabled. This has descended into what I hate to say is the worst of America, although perhaps it's the worst of many countries -- a fear of change causing violence and a determined ignorance blocking conversation. I'm not saying everything about this plan is great. We should be having lots of heated discussions about it, so that it eventually becomes better and better, in whichever direction is best. But punching matches and anti-NHS? Not cool, and downright stupid.

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