PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a group of liberal activists meeting in Las Vegas they shouldn't worry about not getting the single-payer provision in the new health care law. "We're going to have a public option," Reid said. "It's just a question of when."
Remember the objections conservatives and many Republicans raised during the debate about government-run health care and the danger of eliminating private health insurance, despite its many flaws? Recall that Britain's National Health Service was frequently cited as an example of where the U.S. health system might be headed: coverage for all, but with lower quality, long waits for major surgery and denial of care when the government decides the procedure is not "cost effective."
Anyone who believes a U.S. health care system based on the NHS model can somehow fare better than Britain's had better consider this recent headline and story from London's Sunday Telegraph: "Axe Falls on NHS Services; Hip operations, cataract surgery and IVF rationed; Cancer care, maternity, pediatric services at risk."
Rationing? Oh yes, and it is something the unconfirmed, recess-appointed U.S. health care czar, Donald Berwick, strongly favors.
British government leaders had promised to protect frontline services. The Obama administration also made similar promises in order to win enough support from members of Congress, most of whom never read the bill before they voted for it.
Here's what America can look forward to if it follows the NHS model, according to an investigation by the Sunday Telegraph: "Plans to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from budgets for the terminally ill, with dying cancer patients to be told to manage their own symptoms if their condition worsens at evenings or weekends." Never has "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" sounded more callous.
Nursing homes for the elderly would be closed, the number of hospital beds for the mentally ill reduced and general practitioners would be discouraged from sending patients to hospitals. Accident and emergency department services would also be cut.
Thousands of jobs would be lost at NHS hospitals, reports the Telegraph. Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association called the cuts "astonishingly brutal." She expressed particular concern at attempts to ration (that word again) hip and knee operations. "These are not unusual procedures," she said. "This is a really blatant attempt to save money by leaving people in pain."
What do politicians care about that? In Britain, as in America, top officials (including Berwick, who has lifetime health coverage given to him by the Institute for Health Care Improvement) will always have access to the best care, even while they decide the rest of us cannot.
When cost, rather than the value of life becomes supreme, rationing will inevitably lead to other cost-cutting policies. And yes, despite protestations from those who favored Obamacare that "death panels" would not be part of the equation, you can count on them. Contact Thomas, a syndicated columnist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.