Hawking British health care

13 August 2009

Nobel laureate and Lucasian Professor Stephen Hawking hit back against the more comically shrill attacks against the British NHS in The Guardian today, especially an article in Investor’s Business Daily that suggests that were he faced with the quality of medical care in the United Kingdom Professor Hawking would not be alive today.  (Neglecting, of course, that as a British subject and British resident he’s never had anything else.)  The original article has been “corrected” – redacted – but reference to the original is here among many other places.  Suffice to say I’ll never read IBD again… though I’m not sure I or anyone else ever did.

Now I wrote about this, in part detailing why I didn’t like this so-called “public option” and why single-payer was a superior system for the country and for taxpayers.  It’s just one man’s opinion and unlikely to influence others but I can safely say that at least it wasn’t the frothing comedy being produced by some (though hardly all) conservative outlets in this country.

The fact is that expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP in this country is the highest in the world if you exclude the Pacific islands; America’s health care system is 37th in the world, way behind France, Italy, Germany, the UK and most of the industrialized world (indeed the US is one of the highest, if not the highest, only among those nations lacking public healthcare); and the US’ health performance rank – that is the efficiency, fairness and cost effectiveness of the entire system – is a whopping 72nd, far behind first and third world alike.  (We are below China.)  Overall life expectancy is better – 24th.  But still behind the UK.  (All numbers from the WHO in 2000.  They’re questioned and questionable, of course, but far better founded than a lot of the information major papers will run; I defy you to find a study of equal comprehensiveness and trustworthiness that speaks better of the US.)

The fact is that health care is a moral issue.  When Congress starts harping about money I stop listening.  Frankly I don’t care how much it costs.  40 million uninsured and 27 million underinsured in this country equals early deaths from preventable disease; equals higher total expense because of the lack of wellness care, which means people aren’t treated until they’re already sick; equals lower life expectancy.  It equals crime, as people are impoverished forcing to make difficult choices and scrabble together whatever they can get to care for themselves and their family.

It even equals impaired national security.  America’s strength in the world is heavily dependent on the ability of our businesses and our government to attract the most brilliant minds anywhere, and we do so with our prosperity, our security, our liberty and the amenities life in the United States offers.  The lack of a guaranteed, quality national health insurance is going to be a great and increasing disincentive to jumping through the hoops necessary to live and work in the United States.  This erodes America’s attractiveness and erodes that competitive ability.  (Imagine it – a single national health system improves competitiveness!)

This is an issue of life and death today and it will only become more so.  That – not money – is the heart of the matter.


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