'Socialized' or not, Britain's health care system is superior

Wendell Potter

America is the home of the brave, they say, but a lot of us brave folks are terrified of the way the British do health care.

We’re even afraid of other Americans who aren’t afraid of it, like Dr. Donald Berwick. President Obama nominated Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services a few years back, but Senate Republicans were so united in their opposition to Berwick that Obama had to wait until Congress was in recess to appoint him.  Berwick struck fear in the hearts of the senators when a few years earlier he said a few positive things about Britain’s National Health Service.

The truth is that those most frightened by the National Health Service—then and now—are insurance industry executives. My former colleagues have been unceasing in their depiction of the NHS as “socialized medicine.” How could anything in the world possibly be worse than a single-payer system in which insurance companies would be unnecessary?

When I was an industry PR guy, I was part of a never-ending effort to defame the NHS, usually by citing a few anecdotes about Brits who claimed to endure long waits for needed care.   

The industry’s propaganda got little resistance from the media or the American public. Few folks on this side of the Atlantic bothered to ask the Brits why they would put up with such an obviously inferior system and why they weren’t clamoring for American-style health care.

To make amends for the years I worked to mislead folks about the NHS, I’d like to recommend a couple of recent articles about Brits who have received care in both the U.S. and the U.K.

The headline of the January 12 story in The Guardian is about all you need to read, quite frankly. “Too many choices, high costs and bureaucracy: British expats grade American healthcare system ‘a pain in the arse.’ ”

The subhead was even more of an indictment of the way we do things here: “Moving to the U.S. for work has advantages for British citizens. The healthcare system is not one of them. It’s so bad that some expats fly home for treatment.”

The article begins by relating the experience of Scottish-born David Gray, now living in Brooklyn, who was recently given the unfortunate news that his doctor was no longer in his insurance company’s network of providers. He was turned away.

There’s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.

This story is part of Wendell Potter commentary. Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter writes about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform. Click here to read more stories in this blog.

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.