UnitedHealth, the discredited scofflaw U.S. health insurance company, just paid $12 million in fines to 37 state governments for its illegal administrative practices. The settlement followed years of legal problems. This hasn’t stopped UnitedHealth from seeking to expand its profiteering in the United Kingdom.

One of the company’s senior executives was an advisor to the most recent effort by big business to privatize the British National Health Service. The recent change in prime ministers has not stopped this anti-people effort. But previous efforts, while disrupting the health service system, have not been totally successful, and the struggle continues.

Privatization debate

The failure of privatization schemes in England is forcing the Gordon Brown government to take another look at this backward method of “saving money.” Brown promised some changes from the Tony Blair regime.

The information spin about these privatization measures is very contradictory, but one thing is for sure, the patients at the National Health Service are not happy with the way the NHS has been functioning. That unhappiness is not what many right-wing candidates and other politicians in the U.S. are assuming. There no desire to scrap socialized medicine in the U.K. On the contrary, the issue is how to make the public system work better.

Mixed message

A recent BBC report headlined “NHS Private Sector Deals Scrapped” said, “The government is rowing back on its use of private sector for NHS care by scrapping a series of projects.”

Brown’s health secretary, Alan Johnson, is quoted as saying a third wave of use of independent treatment centers would not take place. The report cites Wave Two as being too costly to the health service. Use of these nongovernmental centers was meant to deal with the waiting periods to get services. By all accounts it failed.

But Johnson makes it clear that the Brown government still intends to use the private sector to offer government-paid-for services. For example, while the government has stopped use of some private centers, it gave the green light to 10 centers, joining 40 others.

The BBC report quoted Dr. Jonathan Fielden, chair of a British Medical Association committee: “It’s a crying shame that so much money has been wasted on this political initiative when the NHS could have achieved better value for the money.”

On the other hand, a group called the NHS Partners Network, set up by Tony Blair, expressed disappointed that some of the private clinics would be cut. They clearly are a lobbying group representing the for-profit forces seeking to dismantle the NHS.

Which way will Brown go?

A highly controversial report by Brown’s health minister, Lord Darzi, “A Framework for Action,” is being challenged by the London Health Emergency organization, which is very skeptical of the privatization that the Labor Party has been pursuing. They fear that this report is a Trojan horse for more privatization. For example, the Kingston Hospitals, part of the NHS, is going ahead with its plan to hand over its entire elective surgical operation to the private sector, using the Darzi report as its rationale.

UnitedHealth connection

It turns out that UnitedHealth is a direct adviser to Darzi. Simon Stevens, a senior officer of UnitedHealth, was also a senior adviser to Tony Blair. While paying millions in fines for its scofflaw activities, UnitedHealth registered a $3.4 billion profit this year, up from last year’s $2.98 billion.

The Darzi strategy looks to privatize major sections of primary care throughout England. Groups like London Health Emergency have other ideas. Stay tuned.