18 August 2009

Healthcare: The Transatlantic Debate

Great Britain has become embroiled in the American debate over health care reform. The leader of Britain's own Conservative party has denounced a Tory MP who has gone on Fox News in this country to denounce his own nation's National Health Service. The leader, David Cameron, has reaffirmed his own commitment to the NHS and has promised to strengthen it if he becomes Prime Minister in the next general election. His denunciation of MP Daniel Hannan has sparked a debate within British conservative circles, Hannan having emboldened others to speak out against NHS in defiance of the party leader and in sync with U.S. Republicans.

Cal Thomas, who has staked out a fringe position in the American debate (even Mr.Right was baffled when I described Thomas's views to him), notes the British imbroglio in his latest column. Statistics suggest to some observers that Britons are forced into a kind of trade-off. The nation's recovery rate from many forms of cancer is worse than America's, but many people are satisfied with free, universal health care. Critics, including Thomas, insinuate that inferior treatment of major diseases is an inevitable consequence of universal coverage. He writes that the British predicament is likely to grow worse, citing statistics that suggest that "socialized medicine has created a shortage of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff." Thomas interprets this as confirming a common argument against "socialized medicine," which is that it would decrease the monetary incentives for people to enter the medical profession.

His main argument this week, before he succumbs to his compulsion to equate universal health care with Nazism, is that "Free is nice, but best is better." He seems to be saying that Americans and Britons alike should prefer a system in which some people can get the best care that money can buy, regardless of whether individuals can afford it themselves. There's an implicit argument here that only money can guarantee adequate medicine, that the absence of a proper profit motive in the medical profession throws the competence of those who end up in the profession despite the lack of proper incentive in question. There's also a predictable contempt for Britons who express contentment with, or Americans who desire, "free" health care, which according to Thomas is actually an unfair burden on the successful minority of taxpayers.

It may be "statist" of me to ask, but why can't we or any other country make it a national priority to train a generation of doctors and nurses the way we strove, or at least made an appearance of striving, to train a generation of scientists following the launch of Sputnik and during the space race? What would be wrong with that? Would people like Cal Thomas question the competence of doctors who are not motivated by greed or ambition, but by a dedication to medicine and the public good? And wouldn't such a commitment almost automatically belie all the paranoia spread by the likes of Thomas about "socialized medicine" as a slippery slope to government-mandated euthanasia? At this very moment, I suspect it would make a major difference in the American debate if the President and the Democrats made such a commitment, regardless of the fate of the current reform plan. Complaints would inevitably follow. Some people will dislike what would look to them like "drafting" people into the medical profession. But if a nation has a right to call on its citizens to kill in its defense, it should be less objectionable to recruit Americans to save lives. I'd be very curious to learn why anyone would think otherwise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Best is better", except when you can't afford it. Then it's all but useless. And if we accorded medical professionals the same sort of accolades we hand over to "professional" athletes, perhaps there would be more incentive for people to accept lower wages to enter the health field. The simple fact is, the right reserves their "right" to wealth and privilege, regardless of the cost to everyone else.