Culturally and politically, the United States and Great Britain have much in common; a shared heritage, similar economic and foreign policy goals, and a recently, a mutual proclivity toward socialized medicine. As opposition to Obamacare continues to mount in the U.S., an examination of how socialized medicine is fairing in light of global financial troubles is necessary.
The UK’s National Health Service, or NHS, established in 1948, is experiencing massive cutbacks, to the tune of $31 billion by 2015. As the Service’s 2011/2012 budget is approximately £106 billion pounds, such cuts are already taking a toll.
In order to compensate for its losses, the NHS is reducing the number of treatments given and medical personnel employed. Surgeries deemed to be “non-lifesaving” are being postponed, waitlists for simple procedures are growing longer and longer, and more than 50,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals will be let go in the next four years, according to The Telegraph.
It makes sense then, that those unable or unwilling to postpone surgeries or submit to months of waiting seek out private “self-pay” services instead. As the Daily Mail points out:
Spire Healthcare, which runs 37 private hospitals, saw a 10 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of self-pay ‘clinically necessary procedures’ it carried out… Nuffield Health, which has 30 private hospitals, has had a big increase in self-pay treatments this year, particularly for orthopaedics and plastic surgery.
BMI Healthcare, which describes itself as ‘Britain’s leading provider of independent healthcare’, said it has seen a ‘continued and steady’ increase in the number of self-pay procedures.
From such increases, it would seem as though the British government’s pledge in the NHS’s core principles to provide healthcare that “meets the needs of everyone” is “free at the point of delivery” and “based on clinical need, not ability to pay” is not a reality for many Britons.
The contradictions of socialized medicine are also rampant in the Commonwealth. A survey done by the independent Health Council reports that more than half of Canadians believe that “fundamental changes are required to make the system work better and 10% believe it needs to be completely rebuilt.”
So despite the millions of taxpayer money that is pumped into the socialized system, many continue to call for reform. One notable difference between the Canadian and British systems is that some components (certain treatments and prescription) of Canadian care require an additional fee. Subsequently, 10 percent of Canadians report not filling a prescription or skipping a dose due to that fee, while 29 percent say they are not very, or not at all, confident that they would be able to afford the care they need should they become ill.
The Journal of the Royal Statistical Society establishes that at any given time, there are approximately 1 million people waiting for “non-lifesaving” procedures in the UK, and in New Zealand and Australia hundreds of thousands of patients wait months to receive treatment. These lists are only getting longer in the face of rapidly shrinking budgets and increasing layoffs.
Moreover, the inequities already present in the socialized system will be substantially augmented by economic austerity. The rationing of treatments is becoming more and more pronounced; The Independent reports that hip and knee replacements are only given to those in “extreme pain,” and those deemed obese are required to lose weight before undergoing the procedure. Patients with cataracts are denied corrective surgery until their visual impairment “substantially affects their ability to work.”
Additionally, accusations of age and race discrimination aimed at the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence abound. The young are said to receive treatment before the old, and the already low quality of care that racial and ethnic minorities receive will decrease further. And with the 2010 creation of the widely-criticized Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), such rationing is becoming a reality in the United States.
The system’s inadequacy is also exacerbated. Without the private hospital sector, the government’s burden of administration grows. And, like in any instance of government growth, the ineffectiveness that accompanies expanding bureaucracy follows. The individual mandate, a cornerstone of President Obama’s 2010 “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is such a move towards bureaucratic inefficiency.
The negative impact that Obamacare has on business should also be considered. In the midst of widespread financial uncertainty and fears of a “double-dip” recession, the last thing the economy needs is more regulation. Obamacare’s vagueness is a major issue, leaving important specifics out that “The secretary shall determine.” One major flaw that’s detailed quite clearly however, is the coercive way in which businesses transition to the government plan.
The law essentially encourages employers not to offer insurance to their employees; the law mandates that all employers insure employees or pay a $2,000 fine per employee, but because paying the fine is cheaper than the plan, employees are forced on the government system.
This leaves businesses with heavy fines and disgruntled workers, not boundless opportunities for expansion. Proponents of the president’s plan claim that massive increases in hiring are just around the corner, as government-funded healthcare gives businesses room to expand. The reality however, is much different. The price for government “shouldering the burden” of healthcare is a massive tax rate.
Such a rate is seen where socialized healthcare exists in Europe. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in France, a 7.5 percent General Social Contribution, (which goes primarily toward healthcare) applies, while in the UK 11 percent of each pound made in weekly income (from £100 to £670) goes to the NHS, and an additional 1 percent for weekly income over £670. And in Switzerland, a whopping 16 percent rate can apply, according to the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest Advance’s BigGovHealth.
Indeed, the crippling effects of big government and the socialist policies of Europe are becoming more and more evident in the face of failing economies and sluggish recoveries. As fears over future financial turbulence and market instability loom, legislators should be advocating policies that foster job creation and business expansion, rather than limiting growth with regulations and policies that have proven disastrous for the rest of the world.