KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Brits Defend National Health Service Against U.S. Criticism

The United Kingdom's National Health System enters into the health care debate amid comparisons of the British and American health care systems. Meanwhile, British politicians defend NHS against critics.

The Economist reports: "Comparing the performance of health systems is tricky. For one thing, people may attach different values to crucial features such as coverage, choice, equity and the quality of clinical care. For another, people's health reflects influences like lifestyles that have little to do with medical care. Cost must also be taken into account. The World Health Organisation attempted an evaluation in 2000, in which Britain came 18th out of 191 countries and America 37th.... On the most basic metric of life expectancy at birth, Britain (79.1 years) outscores America (77.8)." A similar story resulted from a study in 2006 that compared the health of middle-aged people: the Americans were sicker than the English. ... On the other hand, Britain scores worse than America in five-year survival rates for cancer."

"Both health systems have their virtues and their faults. At its best, America offers extraordinarily good clinical care, but too many people lack insurance cover or fret about losing it. The NHS provides health care to all at a much lower total cost, but patients have less clout. Both countries are crying out for reforms to bring about better and cheaper care" (8/20).

Bloomberg reports: "Conservative leader David Cameron said patients should get more control over the treatment they get from the National Health Service as he rebutted government claims his party isn't committed to state-funded health care. British politicians leaped to the defense of the NHS after critics of Barack Obama's health plan said the U.K. system neglects the disabled and the old ....  Pledging full support for the NHS, Cameron echoed some of the U.S. criticism of the British system in his characterization of the government's attitude as 'the old-fashioned, 'get-what- you're given and be grateful-for-it' treatment'"  (Hutton, 8/20).

Earlier this week, Lord Ara Darzi gave a rigorous defense of the British system to NPR's Steve Inskeep: 

INSKEEP: "Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican who is deeply involved in health care negotiations, raised concerns about moving the United States anywhere near what Britain has because of an example of a fellow senator of his. Let's listen:
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): I've been told that the brain tumor that Senator Kennedy has, because he's 77 years old, would not be treated the way it's treated in the United States ... They'd say, well, we've got to spend the money on people that have more, can contribute more to the economy.
INSKEEP: Does the British system make that kind of distinction? Here's an older fellow, you've got this treatment that you could give him but it wouldn't add massively to his life expectancy ...
Lord DARZI: Well, I'm sorry to say that's the most ludicrous thing I've heard ... these are lies which have been used to set fear against reform." (Morning Edition, 8/18).

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