According to the latest World Health Organization Statistics the US spends more on health care than any other country. As a whole it devotes 15.3% of its GDP to health care (or $6,719 per person per year) and the US government spends more on its health care programmes (including Medicare and Medicaid) than the UK government spends on the NHS.
So you would expect the US to get some fantastic results for all that money. Well no. In fact the UK does better than the US on all but one of the WHO millennium health goals.
The reasons for this failure are not hard to see. Health care in the US is extremely expensive and inefficient, with more than a quarter of health care spending going to administration. More than 45 million Americans have no health insurance and therefore little access to any treatment. Insecure employment means that more than twice that number spend significant periods uninsured. Most insurance policies run out after a fixed number of treatments exposing families to huge bills, making medical costs the major cause of bankruptcy.
It is clear that health care reform is needed in the US. So how about a plan that would reduce the amount that families and businesses pay for their existing health insurance, and would make affordable health insurance available to everyone. That would surely be a great idea.
Well not according to the US conservatives who have launched a vitriolic campaign against Obama’s reform plans. Many of the attacks have used the NHS as an example of the terrible things that will happen if the plans go ahead. For example, the Club for Growth has launched an ad campaign that suggests that the NHS simply lets patients die if their treatment would be expensive. An Investor’s Business Daily editorial also claims that if your treatment costs more than $20,000 dollars "you get to curl up in a corner and die." This editorial originally claimed that Professor Stephen Hawking would have died long ago had he been a British NHS patient. Many people, included Stephen Hawking, pointed out that he actually is British and is alive largely because of the excellent care he has received under the NHS at Addenbrooke’s hospital.
Even the more rational objections to the reform plan seem more concerned with the current ‘freedoms’ the wealthy enjoy to use their health insurance to reduce their tax bills and to avoid contributing to the care of poor people with unhealthy life styles.
The Democrats seem to be fighting back strongly against these ridiculous attacks. Let’s hope that the reforms go through and that all Americans finally get access to the health care they need.
If you want to know more about the US health reform plans, try the original Obama-Biden Health Reform Plan. For more on President Obama’s campaign to get the reform message across, try the HealthReform.gov website.