I like America. I like its sweeping landscapes and sense of purpose. I know it has its problems. In some places, you are considered cosmopolitan if you marry outside your own family. And it gave the world George W Bush and didn’t listen when the world took him back with the receipt and tried to exchange him for some pyjamas and a soap on a rope.
We also know the US produces some of the most remarkable cities, nicest ice cream and biggest bridges in the world.
However, it is rubbish at organising healthcare and, judging by the recent debate around Barack Obama’s health bill, it is quite proud of that fact.
In America you get a health insurance package with “most” jobs and, while the packages vary, the chances are you can get to see someone if you are ill. However, at least 47 million people don’t have health insurance, largely because many employers offer limited or sometimes no health insurance packages. Hardly becoming of the richest country in the world, is it?
It’s strange that a country that can produce the Golden Gate Bridge, The Fabulous Baker Boys and stuffed crust pizza can so completely misunderstand the point of a healthcare industry and it is no surprise that they look at our NHS with a bemused incomprehension. But I can’t help thinking that perhaps we can learn something from their confusion, and maybe even help them as we do so.
‘It’s strange that a country that can produce the Golden Gate Bridge and stuffed crust pizza can so misunderstand the point of a healthcare industry’
The US thinks of healthcare as an opportunity for profit. Mr Obama’s health bill proposes healthcare for all without too many money-making opportunities and this appears to have made the rabid right wing of the US fall over with dizziness.
The health bill proposes a national health insurance that will fund health collectives designed to provide access and services for all. It is wholly reasonable and about 50 years overdue, but the reaction against it has been so rabid, so hysterical and so astonishingly dishonest that one would think the man was suggesting they all just give the country back to the Indians and go and live in Mexico.
Amid the hysteria, the NHS has come in for some astonishing attacks in America. Some remarkable questions have been asked. Is it true that we kill the physically handicapped? Do we eat babies? Are we all communists?
Touchingly, most people have moved to support the NHS - which hasn’t happened for a while, has it? And they have supported not the modern machinations of the internal market but the simple underpinning principle, so lost in language and organisational challenges, that is providing first-class healthcare for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. A principle that more than any other establishes our country as progressive and compassionate.
It is often useful to see yourself through the eyes of others. The NHS is not and never will be envied because of the way it has been modernised in the marketplace. It is admired because of its purpose and, if we could but construct a way of realigning ourselves to that ideal the way Mr Obama is trying to, we might just become the envy of the world again.