It has come to light, quite formally, what the government plans to do with the NHS. David Cameron’s senior health advisor, Mark Britnell, declared that the NHS will be “shown no mercy” to a conference of health executives eager for news of how deep the axe will fall in their sector. It seems for them, the harvest will be good this year.
For us, this will not only mean a facelift for an institution which we are rightly proud of stand loyally by, but a complete revaluation of what health care actually means in this country.
Britnell has said the National Health Service will no longer be a service, but an insurance provider, identifying the next couple of years of imposed economic hardship and austerity as being the “best time” for the NHS to undergo this transition. Needless to say, The Shock Doctrine comes to mind.
The question we have to ask ourselves is one the Americans are painfully mulling over now – is health care a right or a privilege? Granted the natural distrust Americans have with any inward expansion of government thanks to their barking mad corporate media outlets, the British population have an altogether different problem relating to the demographics of opinion: general apathy with pockets of condensed yet ostracised outrage. This of course can be attributed to the national experience with the political process in general, but that is another rant.
What is important to measure is what will happen to the cost of health care and medication if the sweeping privatisation is enforced. The government is priding itself on its incredibly debt driven education policy at the moment, but what will happen if the proposed health insurance is abused by escalating and uncontrollable health care costs, unmitigated by the state and completely determined by private monetary profit margins? Yup, insurance denied, loopholes are found, tragic stories are born and a new norm takes shape. And that will happen, no ifs and buts.
Anyway, it doesn’t actually matter if I’m paying the bill or not; how much does it cost? is the more pertinent and determinative question which is central to the issue.
There is a reason why Britain has similar performance in health care when compared to the U.S. despite spending almost half of what the U.S. does in terms of %GDP on it – as expensive as our private option is here, it is nothing compared to the astronomical costs in the U.S. To offer an anecdote, I recently had an ACL reconstruction here through BUPA, and received all the receipts for the hospital room, anaesthetic, the surgical procedure and medication. The actual medical costs amounted to £4,500. Curious to U.S. alternatives afterwards, I researched and received a few quotes regarding the price of the exact same procedure in a U.S. hospital for a U.S. resident. The average sum in this instance amounted to $35,000 without medication. Looking at it now, a website has stated that actual costs can range from $20,000-$50,000, which seems in line with what I found 2 years ago.
Health professionals and administrators have a lot to gain with figures like that, as do the insurers who broker the price behind closed doors. There is absolutely no reason why such a gulf in cost exists between the procedure in the U.K. and the U.S., but under the U.S. model, health care is perceived as a privilege so the costs are measured accordingly.
Our private health care market has yet to be properly exploited because of the size and functionality of the free, state provided alternative, which provides a counter-balance in terms of said costs. By diluting its effectiveness, capabilities, and manpower, the free marketeers wish to expand the private arm of the sector to become dominant – which will, contrary to their whimsical meanderings about the economy and what is good for it, mean health care costs will rocket as the free option disappears. There is good evidence for this given the model the U.S. has been operating under; when health care is privatised in its entirety, we are at the mercy of businessmen who are driven by monetary profit at the real cost of our actual wellbeing, regardless of insurance or not.
The costs are and will be the issue, and the costs will determine coverage and dictate the law governing it.