Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Clearing up some confusion

I leave London in two weeks. This sucks, dude. Even though I am really, and I mean REALLY excited to move to New York, I am really sad to leave London. And also to leave Britain's NHS which is, let me tell you, pretty damn awesome. I don't necessarily want to spark yet ANOTHER healthcare debate, because that's what my Facebook status is for, apparently. But I have to tell you, it is just a little bit odd that I have had wonderful health coverage for absolutely free here in Britain (I guess I do pay VAT, but it's only 5% more than the sales tax in LA) and now I have to buy stupidly expensive health insurance when I move back to my native land.

One of the worst parts of this whole debate has been the scare-mongering that has occurred wherein people who have never ever lived abroad invoke Canada or Britain's health care system and are like, "OMG IN BRITAIN EVERYONE DIES BEFORE THEY ARE 40 BECAUSE GORDON BROWN KILLS THEM ALL WITH HIS DEATH GAVEL TO SAVE ON HEALTH CARE COSTS!!!"

It's irritating to me as an American, and it's even more irritating to Brits, who ... okay. Here's the thing about Brits, and I don't claim to be an expert, but after living here for a year, I have learned a little about the people.

They aren't a very patriotic people. Not like Americans. Once when I told a group of Brits about the Pledge of Allegiance they kind of freaked out about how all Americans are obviously brainwashed. Brits don't natter on about how they're proud to be British. There isn't a Union Jack flying from every corner. They aren't obsessed with being number one. In fact, the Brits are charmingly self-deprecating about how they lost the empire.

Brits save their patriotism for football and tennis when Andy Murray is winning. (When he is losing, Murray mysteriously goes from being "British" to "that Scot.") Outside of sport, the Brits are pretty mild-mannered.

Until you attack the NHS.

Let me try and explain this in American terms. Britain doesn't have a constitution. But the NHS does. To attack the NHS, is in a sense, to attack Britain at its core. It's like attacking the Bill of Rights. And the NHS continues to be one of the most popular institutions in Britain. One of the studies I read for my exams rated its popularity at 80%.

I can't think of anything with an 80% popularity rate in the United States.

Institutions are not so beloved if they are crap. The NHS has its faults, no doubt, but many of the charges being levied against the NHS in America are beyond ludicrous. Which makes the Brits angry, which makes them attack us, and it becomes a vicious trans-Atlantic cycle that is REALLY, REALLY annoying for those of us Americans living in the UK who might want to do something that doesn't involve arguing about healthcare in the pub and whether or not the Pledge of Allegiance has turned Americans into zombies.

So, please. I implore everyone. Stop the madness. Nye Bevan did not kill Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking, is, by the way, BRITISH, not American. The Queen does not preside over a death panel. Even waiting times have been greatly reduced.

I don't think, ultimately, the NHS is the right system for America for various reasons. But just because it's not the right system for the United States doesn't mean we need to hurl unnecessarily invectives at a system that has done a damn good job in Britain for the past 50 years.

God Bless the Queen, the NHS, and the inventor of Pimms. I'm gonna miss you all.


Oldnovice said...

I'm not one of those "my country right or wrong" Americans, so ya won't hear ME attacking the British Health Care System and ya won't hear me repeating the meme that America's Health Care System is the best in the world. It ISN'T. Them's just the facts. We pay FAR more than any other industrialized country for inferior health care. Our infant mortality rate is below that of Singapore.

I'm watching the health care debate closely, but don't really have a dog in the race. I don't have health insurance. If I get a serious illness, I simply die. This is what people did/do wherever there's no affordable health care. I've grown accustomed to having no health care. It's just one more "sustainability" notch on my stick. We use home remedies and self-treat everything. The internet is a golden resource in this regard. Google is my friend.

As much as we're accustomed to self-treating, I'll be (if I live long enough) eligible for Medicare in 3 years. Lots of us out there ... too old to be considered marketable anymore, but too young to be covered under Medicare. We do our best to stay healthy. {You might remember me suggesting that we don't eat homemade pies because they don't go to our hips, but go to our arteries and hearts.) Diet and exercise must play a role for me, although it didn't stop me from catching chicken pox last week. [big sigh]

Welcome back!

Green Bean said...

Welcome back to the US of A. The fear mongering these days is out of control. I'm not sure how anyone can talk about death panels without laughing as it's so absurd. That said, FOX has had its best year ever and it seems to be pervasive.

Color Me Green said...

i'm looking forward to having you in the city i call home because i'm sure you will have lots of interesting things to say about living in NYC and environmental policy here.

DiElla said...

Yesterday one of my clients(I'm a hairstylist) said that if you are British and you get cancer you will die before you will get treatment. I tried to have a reasonable conversation with her but finally gave up. Frightening!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Excellent summary! For us Brits, slagging off the NHS is like slagging off our mothers: it's OK if we do it, but if anyone else joins in...

The NHS saved my sister's life and my left arm, and when my Dad found a lump in his throat, they had it out and biopsied (benign, thankfully) within a week.

The comparisons to the Canadian system also get my goat. People are saying that Canadians with cancer have these awful outcomes, but it's completely untrue. I should know, I work for the British Columbia Cancer Agency and I see our stats. And it's all free, no-one has to decide between drug A and drug B based on cost, or between treatment and keeping their house.

knutty knitter said...

My sister found a lump about a month back. It was biopsied, studied, removed and reported back on inside 3 weeks. Fortunately it was benign.

That cost her nothing!

What more could you need. I certainly don't mind paying a bit of tax for that sort of service.

viv in nz

ruchi said...

Oldnovice, yeah what is America's OBSESSION with insisting that we are the best in the world at everything. Even when it's patently obvious that we're NOT. It's a little ridiculous.

GB, yeah, I don't get Fox news here in Britain, but I do get the Daily Show, so I get to see some of the craziest bits. Like how people are showing up to town halls with guns. Awesome.

Julia, I hope so!!

DiElla, yeah, that kind of thing defies reason. What I find funny is that a lot of Americans will talk about how in the British system, those that can afford it buy private insurance. And it is true, that many affluent Brits do buy private insurance. However, for something serious like cancer, they would use the NHS.

Cath, haha, yes! There are few ways to better incur the wrath of my British friends than to slag off the NHS if you're non-British.

Viv, I agree!

Anonymous said...

I strongly concur. When I was there I loved the NHS too and actually have seriously been talking with my husband about going to work for them in 3-4 years when I finish my training here.

I truly believe that having securities in life like health care brings everything down a notch and allows people to relax. It's a lot harder to sleep at night when you could lose not only your job but your access to health care. Especially if you have a chronic condition.

The whole American medical system, how medical education is financed, and how primary care doctors get paid so little is completely whacked out. Even now I'm struggling with whether to follow my heart or pocketbook as I choose my specialty (or lack thereof). It's hard to weigh whether my enthusiasm for family medicine will outweigh the fact that I could DOUBLE my salary and simultaneously decrease my work hours by going into another specialty. Other countries like the UK help students finance their educations and shorten the duration while America, always the "you're on your own" philosophy forces it's students to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that they often spend decades trying to pay back. That better salary is starting to look pretty good in light of that. No wonder no one wants to do primary care which is a shame because I think ironically it takes more smarts to simultaneously learn Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Surgery, and OBGYN as a family doctor than it would be to focus on one.

ruchi said...

SDG, congrats on getting married!

Yes, I think the amount of money American med students have to shell out is freaking ridiculous and a big problem.

Eco Yogini said...

you know- Canadian Healthcare has it's faults as well- but I am happy knowing that if I get sick I will get treatment. which is kinda nice.
However, sadly, Canada is so closely tied to the US that we are quickly moving to more and more privatization- drugs that aren't covered, certain surgeries or procedures... I think it's scary- to have only the prosperous and rich have access to appropriate health care and medications.

there are many myths surrounding socialization of Health care- and sadly Americans (and Canadians) are not well-informed on the topic.