So you want the government to run your health care? You better be a good little slave and always do what master says. Socialized medicine is evil.
If you’ve been concerned about socialized medicine, ObamaCare or veterans’ health care in the U.S., look to its cousin across the pond. A subsidiary of the government-run British National Health Service has decided to bar obese patients and smokers from undgergoing hip and knee operations. “I think we are going to see more and more decisions like this,” said Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers told The Telegraph. “It’s the only way providers are going to be able to balance their books.”
The British NHS and the U.S. VA are cousins
The British National Health Service and the U.S. Veterans Health Administration are two of the last remaining socialized health care systems in the world. That is to say, both systems have not only single-payer, government-run health insurance—the government also owns the hospitals and employs the doctors.
When government has that dominant of a role, it has no choice but to prioritize how to spend the money. In May, NHS England disclosed that its health care providers—hospitals, clinics, doctors and the like—had spent £2.45 billion ($3.26 billion) more than they had been allocated.
In North Yorkshire, England, hospital leaders have decided to cut back by denying hip and knee surgeries to smokers who refuse to quit, and those with Body Mass Indices above 30. (If you’re 5’10”, a BMI of 30 is 209 pounds; if you’re 5’5”, it’s 180 pounds.)
“Major surgery poses much higher risks for severely overweight patients who smoke,” said an NHS England spokesman. “So local [providers] are entirely right to ensure these patients first get support to lose weight and try and stop smoking before their hip or knee operation.” The change “saves the NHS and taxpayers millions of pounds.”
The NHS’ longstanding problems
The NHS has, for decades, endured problems that will remind many of the VA’s waiting list scandal:
NHS doctors routinely conceal from patients information about innovative new therapies that the NHS doesn’t pay for, so as to not “distress, upset or confuse” them.
Terminally ill patients are incorrectly classified as “close to death” so as to allow the withdrawal of expensive life support.
NHS expert guidelines on the management of high cholesterol are intentionally out of date, putting patients at serious risk, in order to save money.
When the government approved an innovative new treatment for elderly blindness, the NHS initially decided to reimburse for the treatment only after patients were already blind in one eye — using the logic that a person blind in one eye can still see, and is therefore not that badly off.
While most NHS patients expect to wait five months for a hip operation or knee surgery, leaving them immobile and disabled in the meantime, the actual waiting times are even worse: 11 months for hips and 12 months for knees. (This compares to a wait of 3 to 4 weeks for such procedures in the United States.)
One in four Britons with cancer is denied treatment with the latest drugs proven to extend life.
Those who seek to pay for such drugs on their own are expelled from the NHS system, for making the government look bad, and are forced to pay for the entirety of their own care for the rest of their lives.
Britons diagnosed with cancer or heart attacks are much, much more likely to die, and more quickly, than those of most other developed nations. Britain’s survival rates for these diseases are “little better than [those] of former Communist countries.”
Socialized medicine doesn’t work!
Left-wing advocates of the NHS-VA approach argue that rationing isn’t a big deal because in a free-market health care system, health care is “rationed” based on an individual’s ability to pay for it. But that’s balderdash.
In the rest of the economy, when a product or service is too expensive, businesses have the incentive to figure out how to deliver it less expensively. Think how much high-definition TVs cost when they first came out—tens of thousands of dollars—compared to today, when Amazon sells dozens of models for under $100. That economic incentive—to deliver better services with higher quality and lower costs—only exists in the private sector.
The more we can put patients back in control of their own health care dollars, the better. Let’s start with the VA.