Healthcare Reform: Cure Worse than the Disease?

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LONDON - President Barack Obama says that America's healthcare system is in trouble.

"The status quo is broken. We cannot continue this way. If we do nothing, everyone's healthcare will be put in jeopardy," he said.

So the President and the Democrats are offering a government solution to drive down healthcare costs and make sure everyone has coverage. The Obama plan would create a government-run health insurer to compete with private insurers and would require everyone to have health insurance. But its cost could exceed $1.5 trillion.

The plan would also move America in the opposite direction of many nations who have had government run healthcare and who now want to fix their healthcare systems with less government and more private sector competition.

Britain has had government-run healthcare for about 60 years. And you can find excellent care. But you could also lose a limb or lose a life waiting for care.

In Britain as elsewhere, universal healthcare does not mean universal access to healthcare. Some 750,000 Britons are on National Health Service waiting lists.  Roughly 40 percent of British cancer patients never get to see a cancer specialist. And the very best cancer drugs may not be available if they're too expensive.

You may have seen commercials warning about the consequences of adopting British-style government-run healthcare.  The spots by the group Conservatives For Patients Rights say, "Before Congress rushes to healthcare, listen to those who already have government-run healthcare. In Britain, Katie Brickell, denied the pap test that could have saved her from cervical cancer..."

We located Katie in London and wanted to check out her story. She told us she was indeed denied a pap smear by the National Health Service when she was 19 and again when she was 20. At 23, she was diagnosed with incurable cervical cancer.

"The doctor's first question was, 'why haven't you had a smear test'? And I said 'I wasn't allowed one.'"

Also featured in the CPR ads warning American patients about government-run healthcare is British cancer specialist Karol Sikora of Cancer Partners UK.

"They'll lose their choice completely; lose control of their destiny within the medical system," he said.

Dr. Sikora told us he's taken a lot of heat for publicly criticizing Britain's NHS in the American ads, but he still insists that a system like Britain's is not the answer to America's healthcare problems.

"The NHS is great in many ways. But there's a lot in it the Americans would never put up with: waiting times, delays, rationing," he said. 

"What the NHS essentially does now is ration care. Ration drugs, for cancer, my specialty, ration procedures, create waiting times and so on. These are the features Americans really wouldn't like about the NHS," he added.

Yet the UN has ranked British healthcare as 18th in the world, far ahead of the United States, which is ranked 37th, even though America dwarfs Britain and the rest of the world in Nobel medicine winners, new pharmaceutical drugs, and new medical procedures.

The UN ranked Italy's government healthcare system second in the world. Yet when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi needed cancer treatment, he didn't go to an Italian hospital. He went to the Cleveland clinic.

Canada too has national healthcare and is ranked higher than the U.S. It also has more than 800,000 patients on waiting lists for medical procedures. Canadians who can afford it come to the U.S. for treatment, including former government minister Belinda Stronach, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated in the U.S.

But make no mistake, America's healthcare system has problems.

"We have the most expensive healthcare system in the world. We have a system in which too many people lack healthcare insurance. And we have a system in which the quality is uneven," Healthcare analyst Michael Tanner said.

And Kathleen Stoll of Families USA says effective reform would create a public-private hybrid approach.

"…that will allow people to keep the coverage they have now, but get help with escalating premium costs. Second, I think we need to make sure healthcare services are delivered in smart ways. That people get care when they need it. That it is appropriate care and that it is timed appropriately. And when we do that we save a lot of money in the healthcare system," she said.

But Tanner says what's needed is less government and less regulation.

"As bad as things are, they can get a whole lot worse. I think most of what Washington is trying to do today will make healthcare much worse. We'll end up with longer lines, greater waits for care, possibly even outright rationing of care," he said.

Katie Brickell was the victim of care rationing. She still believes that Britain's NHS does great things. And she remains upbeat, despite her cancer.

"Although its treatable, it's not curable, and it's just something I'll have to live with, and I won't have to live with it very long, if you know what I mean."

Britain's National Health Service would not provide a spokesperson to be interviewed for this report.

Brickell told us, "It's really really annoying that the government just seems to think we're not worth a simple pap smear. Our life isn't worth that, basically."

*Originally published June 17, 2009

 

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A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.