British unions debunk lies about National Health Service

While Arizona Senator John Kyl, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, admits that he and his colleagues use “hollow buzzwords,” Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers president, counters, “Health insurance reform is about human and civil rights … The debate in the United States has been intense, at times unfairly focused on the many myths and mistruths being circulated by opponents, including those about the universal health care system in the United Kingdom. Our sisters and brothers in the UK know the truth and are helping set the record straight.”

Derek Simpson, Britain’s Unite leader adds, “The National Health Service is the pride of the UK and workers will not stand by while rich insurance companies spend millions of dollars to promote their smear campaign. We are proud of our universal healthcare system and view the attempts to represent the NHS as inefficient as outrageous.”

Among the claims about the British system are that older people do not receive treatment, officials decide which life is worth treating, and health care is rationed.

A widely circulated myth is that heart repairs and bypass surgery are not covered because of the expense. In truth, under the British system, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age. According to the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, “Growing numbers of patients over 65 with heart conditions are having surgery, including valve repairs and heart bypass surgery.”

The average age at which people have a bypass operation has risen from 58 in 1991 to 66 in 2008. Clinical decisions are made on a case-by-case basis on what is best for each patient.

The GOP claims that government officials make medical decisions and would deny treatment to those who the officials deem “worthless.” The so-called Club for Growth,  which seeks to make the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich permanent, says that British government health officials have decided that $22,750 is what six month’s life is worth, and if medical treatment cost more, you are subject to exclusion.

The truth is that the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) decides on the use of new drugs and whether the new drugs are to be used. NICE makes the decisions, not government officials.

Investors Business Daily said that British scientist Stephen Hawking, who has a degenerative illness, wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, because the NHS would say, “because of his physical handicaps, he is essentially worthless.” Hawking responded that he “wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights claim, “In Britain, 40% of cancer patients are never able to see the oncologist; there is explicit rationing for services such as kidney dialysis, open heart surgery and care for the terminally ill.” South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint says that the British system does not allow women under 25 to receive screening for cervical cancer. The National Audit Study reported in 2005 that 99.2% of cancer patients see a specialist within 2 weeks and 89.9% of cancer patients begin treatment within 31 days. Additionally, all women over 25 are routinely and regularly invited for a cervical cancer test. Any woman, at any age, who presents symptoms of cervical cancer will receive a smear test if their doctor thinks it is appropriate. (In the U.S. presently, women now get cervical cancer screenings every three years instead of annually.)

Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail responds to two other Republican charges: long waiting lines and unqualified staff.

“Long waiting lines, problems in the past, have been solved by increased funding. Prescriptions are not yet free, but are modestly priced, with concessions for the poor and for special conditions. Not only is the health care staff highly qualified and ‘trained to the highest standards,’ but the National Health Service staff is the same staff used also in the private sector,” she said.

Republicans pretend that for-profit insurance companies don’t already stand in between patients and doctors. Their corporate politics lead Republicans to stand against protection against rising costs and pre-existing conditions. Despite their “right to life” and “defense of fetus” claims, Republicans would even deny protection for uninsured pregnant women of health insurance.

John Kenneth Galbraith said, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Health insurance reform is about our lives, our jobs, and our families. We can’t let distortions and intimidation get in the way.