As myths and half-truths circulate, British diplomats in the US are treading a delicate line in correcting falsehoods while trying to stay out of a vicious domestic dogfight over the future of American health policy.
Slickly produced television advertisements trumpet the alleged failures of the NHS's 61-year tradition of tax-funded healthcare. To the dismay of British healthcare professionals, US critics have accused the service of putting an "Orwellian" financial cap on the value on human life, of allowing elderly people to die untreated and, in one case, for driving a despairing dental patient to mend his teeth with superglue.And:
Last week, the most senior Republican on the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley, took NHS-baiting to a newly emotive level by claiming that his ailing Democratic colleague, Edward Kennedy, would be left to die untreated from a brain tumour in Britain on the grounds that he would be considered too old to deserve treatment.
"I don't know for sure," said Grassley. "But I've heard several senators say that Ted Kennedy with a brain tumour, being 77 years old as opposed to being 37 years old, if he were in England, would not be treated for his disease, because end of life – when you get to be 77, your life is considered less valuable under those systems."
The degree of misinformation is causing dismay in NHS circles. Andrew Dillon, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), pointed out that it was utterly false that Kennedy would be left untreated in Britain: "It is neither true nor is it anything you could extrapolate from anything we've ever recommended to the NHS."Finally, the bottom line:
Defenders of Britain's system point out that the UK spends less per head on healthcare but has a higher life expectancy than the US. The World Health Organisation ranks Britain's healthcare as 18th in the world, while the US is in 37th place. The British Medical Association said a majority of Britain's doctors have consistently supported public provision of healthcare. A spokeswoman said the association's 140,000 members were sceptical about the US approach to medicine: "Doctors and the public here are appalled that there are so many people on the US who don't have proper access to healthcare. It's something we would find very, very shocking."
The British would be the first to tell you that their health care system is not perfect, but they will also tell you that they wouldn't be without it. Unfortunately, right-wing boosters of the profit-driven U.S. health care system can often rely on the painful ignorance so many Americans show about what goes on in the rest of the world.
More on this subject. An update of the above story.
Still more. The Obama administration is increasingly showing its lack of backbone, the climb down on the public option being a particularly depressing and entirely unnecessary capitulation on something that the majority of Americans until just a matter of weeks ago when an onslaught of lies confused the more gullible amongst them. Whatever happened to fighting for something you believe in? Okay, I guess that's not for this administration, but it doesn't stop health care reform advocates from getting into high gear and organizing for what we all need.
What Obama should do--but will he? Words of wisdom on the health care situation from fellow journalist-blogger Marc Cooper. Bottom line: Get tough, not weak.
More allegations of Israeli war crimes. From Human Rights Watch, a report on the killing of unarmed Gaza civilians carrying white flags. And a rebuttal of Israeli attempts to discredit the report.