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  • Learn from Britain’s Mistakes: Don’t Centralize Health Care in Washington

    To understand the dangers of a government takeover of health care, America should study Britain’s system, which exemplifies the shortcomings of heavily regulated, nationalized health care. A recent report by Robin Harris of the Heritage Foundation outlines the deterioration of Britain’s health care system due to years of liberal health policy marked by heavy concentration of power, higher taxes and the proliferation of rules and restrictions by the National Health Service (NHS).

    The NHS is Britain’s government-run health care system. It acts as a single-payer system which originated with the nationalization of thousands of Britain’s hospitals. According to Harris, this “centralized, single-payer health service, free at the point of consumption, was an ideal prescription for waste, rationing by queues, and inordinate public expenditure.”

    The woes caused by the NHS are multitudinous. As a result of the long waits to receive care, patients have instead begun to purchase treatment themselves, even going abroad to receive care. Access and quality of care are low, and rationing of services has led to discrimination against the elderly. As with any government-run system, more wealthy citizens have a higher level of mobility within the system, and are more able to obtain a higher quality of care than others. It is thus that the NHS has led to increased inequality in care received by Britons.

    Since 1997, Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both significantly increased NHS spending. However, according to Harris, health care has not significantly improved due to the spending splurge, and Britain remains well behind other European nations in measures of quality of care. Clearly, the NHS is a failing institution that has sacrificed the health and the quality of care received by the people it serves.

    The British health care system should serve as a bleak warning for lawmakers pursuing health care reform. Though congressional Democrats’ proposed legislation would not impose the same structure of government-run health care as the NHS, the concentration of control over health benefits and regulatory restrictions on the kinds of insurance Americans could have would put America on a glide path to a system of national health insurance, with many of the characteristics of the NHS. A public option, whether explicit or not, would create an unlevel playing field for insurers which could ultimately put private insurers out of business. Even without a public option, government regulation of premiums, insurers’ medical loss ratios, and detailed health benefits packages would give Washington the ability to manipulate the private insurance industry as it desired. Increased federal power would put decision-making into the hands of politicians, rather than the patients and doctors with whom it belongs.

    Government control of health care can be avoided with true reform. Without true reform, and the progressive growth of government control will entail longterm costs. Market inefficiencies ensue, resulting in less innovation, a decreased focus on increasing value, fewer consumer choices and control over health providers, waste, and even political manipulation of the system. European Parliament member Daniel Hannan remarked that the “US would be making a bad mistake if it adopted the failed model of the U.K. National Health Service.” Policymakers should heed his advice.

    Co-authored by Rick Sherwood.

    Posted in Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Learn from Britain’s Mistakes: Don’t Centralize Health Care in Washington

    1. Al, Hastings, UK says:

      As a British citizen who, of course, has some experience of the NHS, I think it is wrong to conclude that our healthcare system is "failing". The reality is that it is a mixed bag. My experience of the NHS has been very positive, and it would be truly frightening to have to pay huge sums of money for healthcare or to rely on insurance companies who are driven by a profit motive and therefore a need to avoid having to fund claims.

      I agree that there are problems – particularly cleanliness in some hospitals and drunken loutishness in A&E (Accident and Emergency) departments. I acknowledge that these are serious issues. But, on the other hand, it cannot be right to deny people healthcare on the basis of ability to pay. Sadly some of the social Darwinian persuasion may disagree with that.

      It troubles me that this issue has become infected with ideological partisanship. The NHS is not a slippery road to socialism or communism. A free market society requires an infrastructure overseen by the government within which people can get on with their lives. The maintenance of this infrastructure is not necessarily a function of a centrally planned economy. In the UK we feel that healthcare comes under "infrastructure" rather than "market".

      For all its problems I would rather have to struggle with our system than be at the mercy of private insurers – especially knowing that their motive is to try their utmost to deny me funding for my healthcare!!

      By the way, British people can still take out private health insurance and be treated at private hospitals, if they so choose.

    2. Rob says:

      Nobody in America is denied based on ability to pay – do not know where this lie comes from. Our poorest of the poor still get better treatment than anyone in the NHS system

    3. Jeff says:

      Al, Here in he US no one is turned away from hospitals. The hospital I work at write thousands in costs every month. What isn't fair, my friend, is to ask others to pay for something you deem important. It has been amazing to me to see people who claim healthcare is so important yet have no wish to pay for it.

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