The American Prospect sends out a regular newsletter, titled Kuttner on Tap, in which the author, Robert Kuttner, addresses a variety of issues.
Kuttner is a longtime journalist– currently a professor of social policy at Brandeis University.. He co-founded and co-edits The Prospect, which (according to Wikipedia) was created in 1990 as an “authoritative magazine of liberal ideas.” He is also a co-founder of the Economic Policy Institute.
Given Kuttner’s background, his preference for national health care is unsurprising, but a recent issue of the newsletter really resonated with me, not just because of stories like the one I shared last Friday, but because it mirrored my own experience with England’s National Health Service (NHS).
Kuttner was in London when he felt ill.
Yesterday, I had some odd health symptoms that suggested a visit to a doctor. This being Britain, off I went to the walk-in clinic of the nearest hospital of the National Health Service. What happened next is enough to make an American progressive weep.
I arrived at St Thomas’ Hospital, one of London’s busiest, at 10 a.m. By 10:20, I had been through a courteous triage process, filled out a basic form, and was scheduled with a GP. The doctor saw me at 11:00, took a history, examined me, performed a couple of tests right in his office, assured me that this was not serious, and shook my hand.
“Do I need to check out?” I asked.
“No, you are free to go,” he said. Less than 90 minutes after arriving, I was on my way.
As I said, this account mirrored a personal experience. A few years ago, my husband and I were on a cruise to England when he developed upper respiratory symptoms. By the time we got to Nottingham, where our oldest granddaughter was living at the time, he was really unwell, and she insisted we go to the nearby walk-in-clinic.
After a very brief wait, we were called back to the nurse practitioner. She took a history, examined him, and called an ambulance to take him to Nottingham University’s hospital. (She said she might be “over-reacting a bit–I hope so” but “better safe than sorry.”) The ambulance was there almost immediately, and I rode with him. I can’t say enough about how efficient and caring the EMTs in the ambulance were.
We were taken to A and E (Accident and Emergency). Again, we were impressed with the efficiency of the process; first, an evaluation and a number of lab tests, then further tests based upon the initial results. Throughout the (very long) day, personnel kept us informed of where we were in the process, and why they were doing what they were doing.
The fear was a pulmonary embolism; fortunately, the scans ruled that out. However, what the ship’s doctor had shrugged off as a cold or allergy turned out to be a heart problem that hadn’t been detected by his cardiologist on his visit a week before our trip. The NHS doctor explained that his symptoms were the result of fluid accumulation–probably the result of unusual activity on the trip. He was admitted for a short stay so that they could eliminate the additional fluid.
Only when he was released were we asked whether we had insurance, since we weren’t British citizens. (The ultimate bill was $1900.–for all the tests, and a two day hospital stay. And Anthem–our insurer at the time–bitched about that and delayed payment.)
As Kuttner wrote,
NHS is far better, fairer, and more cost-effective than our system. Britain is a poorer country than the U.S. but has an average life expectancy almost four years longer (80.9 years to America’s 77.3).
Because the NHS is true social medicine with salaried doctors and nurses, the money and time wasted in the U.S. on parasite middlemen, coding and billing, rapacious insurance companies, hospital profit-maximization strategies, and excess lucrative procedures, is simply not a problem or a drain in Britain. All the money goes to patient care….
In this fiscal year, the entire NHS costs 152 billion pounds, or about $180 billion. That’s close to two-thirds of all of Britain’s spending on health care. By contrast, the U.S. spends a staggering $4.4 trillion.
Relative to GDP, Britain spends about 12 percent and covers everyone. We spend just under 20 percent, and tens of millions of Americans have no coverage while tens of millions more are woefully underinsured and must pay exorbitant sums or do without.
Other Western countries have other versions of national health care. All of them deliver better results for many more people for far fewer dollars.
It turns out that it’s very costly to refuse care to “undeserving” (i.e. under-resourced) people…..