I am English (and a dual citizen of England and the United States) and I am increasingly frustrated with the misinformation reported regarding socialized medicine. Several opponents of health care reform—including major conservative radio and TV commentators and several Republican politicians—claim that in England major surgery is not given to those over 59. This simply is not true!
My mother had open heart surgery at age 81, is now 88 and doing well. She received excellent care, and she did not wait three months for a specialist; her surgery was immediate. My cousin recently had heart and lung surgery; he is 70 and his surgery was immediate and successful. Unlike the United States, all people (particularly the elderly) are taken care of in England. Further, all English citizens do not pay for any prescriptions after the age of 60.
The biggest difference between their system and ours? Everyone has access to healthcare. Everyone. Comprehensive health care in England, like every civilized country except the United States, is considered to be a right of all people. Apparently, in the United States the people concerned about their rights don’t care that millions of Americans currently don’t have the same rights. I have observed that in the country people who oppose universal health care are quite selfish—'don't mess with my health care, but I don't care about anyone else having adequate health care.'
Opponents of health care reform probably haven't lost a job recently and lost their health insurance as well. As executive director of a major non-profit organization in the U.S., I see people every day who have been laid off, who need medication, and need care, but no longer have insurance and cannot afford to buy it.
Are there problems with the system in England? Of course there are, just like there are problems with any other health care system. But: Is it acceptable for hospitals to turn away the uninsured? Is that the American Way? What does it say about our U.S. system when the first question at the emergency room is not “what is the problem” but “do you have insurance?” And don’t we all know someone who has cancer, is struggling with treatments and sickness, but must continue to work so that he or she won’t lose health insurance and can continue the treatments? As long as our system ties health insurance to employment, the unemployed people of this country will be unable to get sick without being financially devastated.
If our U.S. system is so superior, why is this country so low on the list of the healthiest countries? The U.S. spends the most on health care of any country in the world, yet is ranked only 11th in healthy population. Canada is ranked 8th and has the longest life expectancy in the world; they must be doing something right. Australia is ranked 6th; government involvement seems to work there too.
I am appreciative that my employer provides a health plan that I can buy into, and I am very satisfied with the quality of care that I receive and I hope that that quality will not be affected by change. But I cannot in good conscience support a system that excludes the unemployed and the underemployed and does not support the elderly.
Rita Inklovich attended college at the University of London and at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, grew up and worked in England, and is employed in the U.S.
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This story was published on August 20, 2009.