Both advocates and critics of a government-run “single payer” system look to the example of Great Britain’s nationalized health care. Here British journalist Mike McNally offers a revealingly balanced view:
The British system is not nearly as bad as has been suggested by opponents of ObamaCare. But it’s fair to say that if Britain were setting up a health care system from scratch today, it wouldn’t bear much resemblance to the NHS. The service was established more than 60 years ago in a country battered by war and when the ability of the government to run such enterprises was unquestioned. Back then it did its job of providing basic health care for all admirably. But with people living longer, medical advances producing new and more expensive treatments, and the bureaucracy growing increasingly byzantine, the NHS has become a black hole sucking in ever-more public money. Labour has more than doubled spending on the NHS since coming to power in 1997 with little to show for it, and the service is projected to face massive funding shortfalls in the next few years.
Yet to talk of reforming the service is political suicide. The NHS employs around 1.3 million people — it’s thought to be the world’s third-largest employer after the Chinese military and India’s railway service — and remains broadly popular with the public despite a steady flow of horror stories (it’s just been revealed, for example, that more than 30,000 people have died in the past five years from infections picked up in NHS hospitals). Assuming the Conservatives win the next election, it’s unlikely Cameron will have the courage to propose significant reforms in a first term.
The simple fact is that while neither system is as terrible as their detractors claim, both have undeniable flaws. And while we can trade facts, figures, and anecdotes all day, a couple of things are clear. The first is that the poor enjoy a generally better standard of care in the UK than in the U.S. The second is that Americans with decent insurance enjoy a better standard of care than most Brits — survival rates for all the major cancers are considerably better than in the UK, and screening and treatment for heart disease and other chronic conditions is more widely available.