If I hear one more person talk about a US Government ‘takeover’ of healthcare without being challenged, I’m going to scream. Mitt Romney did it in the first debate. Bill O’Reilly did it when he faced off against Jon Stewart yesterday. In neither instance did their debate opponent call out this bullshit for what it was; a barefaced lie.
The phrase, ‘government takeover’ was thought up as useful for the current age (having previously proven popular when Bill Clinton was chasing healthcare reform) in a 2009 memo from Republican strategist, Paul Luntz. Luntz correctly told his readers that ‘takeover’ smelled of a coup which would lead to the loss of freedom. In the patented Land of the Free, there is no greater crime. The phrase however, has no relation whatsoever with the truth.
If you want to know what a government takeover of healthcare would have looked like, a fine example is the UK’s National Health Service. There, the Government owns the hospitals, the Government pays the doctors, and taxes pay for it all. Everything from going for a quick checkup with your GP to having major surgery is ‘free’ in the sense that there are no ad hoc charges, but rather a proportion of paid taxes go to fund the system whether an individual uses it or not. The only regular charge is when prescriptions are issued, and patients pay the equivalent of just over ten dollars every time. That’s ten dollars for twenty dollars worth of pills, and ten dollars for one hundred dollars worth of pills.
That’s not what America has, and it’s not what was proposed. Most Americans still get private health insurance via their employer. The law increases the number of people getting private healthcare. The government doesn’t own the hospitals; it doesn’t pay the doctors. The law doesn’t even include a government insurance scheme as an alternative to the private market.
Sure, government regulation is increased, but this isn’t a takeover. And since no one seems to have much of a problem with the idea of regulating the tobacco or flight industries, why so much fuss about one which is ostensibly about the nation’s health but more accurately about profit? I’ve heard all the free market arguments and don’t disagree with any of them in principal, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that given the choice between protecting the public good and making money, American corporations have shown where their priorities are. I’m not even one of these lefties that’s particularly annoyed at them for that. If there are loopholes in the law that they can exploit then it’s the lawmakers who bear the brunt of my anger.
But I digress. So successful was this lie (and it’s disingenuous to refer to it as anything but when it comes from an educated source) that when Obama signed the Bill into law, over 50% of respondents to a Bloomberg poll agreed that it was a Government takeover. Here, my ire is directed both against the perpetrators of this bullshit, the limp-wristed reporters who failed to call them on it and the ignorant fucks who swallowed it without question. I acknowledge that not everyone has the time to read a newspaper every day, and when you get in from a long day at work dramatic or sporting escapism may well be more appealing than the news, but I have very little patience with those who wilfully ignore the debate and instead believe whatever they’re instructed to. Whether their source of information is John Stewart or Sean Hannity is irrelevant (although Pew studies have shown Stewart’s Daily Show viewers to be amongst the most informed in the country) – it’s simply not good enough to pick someone who says a lot of things you agree with, and then unquestioningly accept everything that comes out of their mouth. Especially with a subject such as healthcare, you owe it to yourself to read up on it, to educate yourself. I’m a lawyer; I know full well how dry legalese is, and no-one wants to sit through a few hundred pages of it unless they have to, but look around, open your fucking ears to more than what’s right in front of you.
While doing that, don’t for a moment accept as true the fallacy that government control equates to crap service. In 2010 the US-based Commonwealth Fund produced a report that said of 12 surveyed countries including Canada, the UK and other states with government-run healthcare, the cost of healthcare in the US was almost twice the international average, the US had the second lowest vote of confidence in the quality of care, the worst bureaucracy (in terms of late test results, conflicting advice & redundant examinations) and half of its doctors felt insurance restrictions were a ‘major problem’ affecting patient care (contrasted with 6% in the UK). How’s that “private competition = good standard of care” argument looking now?
That’s not even the punch line. 41% of respondents in the US felt that fundamental changes to the system were required to improve healthcare. Over a quarter of them felt the system had to be rebuilt completely. In the UK, this number was 3%.
Patients in the UK were more likely to see a doctor within 48 hours of the request, had an easier time seeing a doctor out-of-hours, had more confidence in the level of treatment they received, had better experiences of the service and had almost no money worries as a result of healthcare costs. This is probably because whilst per capita, healthcare costs in the US were on average just short of $8000, in the UK they were less than half, at $3500.
Call me a socialist all you want; from my point of view a government takeover of healthcare looks pretty fucking good. But that still doesn’t mean there is one, and anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar.