Elder healthcare: Thank your lucky stars - and stripes - you're not American

Posted on: 21 March 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

Healthcare reform championed by US President Barack Obama is under threat, denying 32 million poorer Americans free care. Our own NHS is much maligned but how would you cope if you had to pay the full cost of medical services?

It’s a big day in America today – particularly for the 60 million people who have no medical insurance and are therefore not covered for drugs or hospital care. It seems strange to me that your physical health is effectively governed by the health of your bank balance – without the latter you cannot get medical treatment!

Some of you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I took a bad fall and ended up in the A&E of King's College Hospital. Shortly after this happened I asked a doctor friend of mine what the treatment I had would have cost if I’d paid privately. The answer was shocking – between £1000 to £1500. Wow, was my response. Thank God for the NHS!

Just assuming that in the UK we did have to pay for healthcare, I would have paid up of course, but it would have hurt!
But what if I couldn’t pay? Well, I’d have self treated my wounds or gone to some kind of relief hospital. All of which would have been at best unsatisfactory and at worse downright risky.

As a youngster (I can’t have been older that four years old) I can clearly remember the distress that was caused to my mother when the ‘Doctor’s Bill’ came in for treating my sister or myself. I can also clearly remember the euphoria when Labour created the National Health Service and everything was free from there onwards.

I find it all the more surprising that the richest country in the world still has a paid health service. I don’t think I could live in a country where good healthcare was the luxury of those who could pay. The reality of the dilemma facing people without the means to buy care was highlighted in a news feature the other evening: it focused on an older American couple who had to make regular decisions as to whether to buy the drugs for the husband or eat.

Even in a so called democratic nation, US President Barak Obama has had a tortuous job rallying support to pass the Bill through Congress. Even some of his own party members are threatening to vote against or abstain this evening. Speaking yesterday, Obama seemed confident – but I think that was a brave face. If he fails it will be a tragedy for those Americans without sufficient means to pay for healthcare but the real tragedy will be for America itself. Obama will be cast as the man who didn’t deliver what he promised. The effect of this will dominate the next three years of his presidency and may well indirectly affect us as well.

For my part I hope he wins his vote and America starts a new chapter in care and compassion for its people. I’m just glad we went through this process some 60 years ago and have the NHS to hold up as a beacon to the rest of the world!

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