Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Unhealthy ravings

American Republicans out to sabotage President Obama's health reforms are spreading the most absurd lies and smears about the UK's National Health Service.

Their vicious campaign to portray Obama as a Nazi claims that his reforms are based on the NHS, a supposedly inhuman, uncaring organisation that writes off human lives.

According to them, it denies treatment to the elderly or anyone who's not "cost-effective", it has "death panels" that decide if people should live or not, it has endless waiting lists and expensive treatments are rationed.

This grotesque parody would be totally unrecognisable to most users of the NHS. They would be utterly bewildered by such a deranged travesty of a service that by and large works remarkably well and gives effective medical treatment to everyone and anyone.

I'm well aware of the NHS's flaws and failings, but the fact is that these flaws are trivial compared to its massive achievements. Far from writing off human lives, in general it goes to extraordinary lengths and spends extraordinary sums to relieve people's illnesses and maintain their quality of life.

The Republicans are not only telling breathtaking lies to prevent American citizens getting proper health care, they're insulting Britain and the million-plus NHS staff who are dedicated to their patients' well-being.

Yes, there are waiting lists for some high-demand procedures. Yes, a few expensive treatments are denied because they're of doubtful value. But anyone who needs urgent, life-or-death assistance gets it immediately with no questions asked and no expense spared - whether they're nine or ninety-nine.

Those in favour of Obama's health reforms should not imagine for one moment that the Republicans' deluded ravings are in any way based in reality.

They're just the desperate flailings of those who still want medicine to be the preserve of the rich, while the poor suffer and die helplessly.

PS: I read that the Twitter campaign #WeLoveTheNHS now has over a million followers

PPS: See Barack Obama's new webpage on the health reforms "Setting the record straight"


  1. Ah, but therein lies the beauty of a working democracy! We can feel free to agree or disagree with our president, as politely or as fiercely as we like. I for one am delighted that people are getting up to a little rabble-rousing.

  2. p.s. I know my comment above may seem strange, but I truly believe it; we've been talking a great deal at home about this--not about the health care reforms, but about the reactions to the reforms, and the reactions to the reactions.

    Another quick point--no one is ever really denied emergency care here--an ambulance takes you to an emergency room, whoever you are, and they must take care of you regardless of your ability to pay. So the issue really is more the other types of care--specialist care, long-term care, mental health care, all of that. Also, the very poor have access to Medicaid, which is sort of like welfare medicine. The real problem is the middle class and lower-middle-class, who neither qualify for Medicaid nor can afford private health care, and in many cases their jobs don't provide it either.

  3. Nick, you really have to read this, it puts it all in context:

  4. Leah - Healthy disagreement and dissent is of course the cornerstone of democracy, but this demented fury is something else altogether. I hope Obama manages to ride it out.

    Yes, there's Medicaid and Medicare but as you say huge swathes of the population are still denied automatic access to health care. As opposed to, say, Cuba.

    Thrifty - The bit about Professor Stephen Hawking being denied health care in the UK would be hilarious if it wasn't so shockingly ill-informed. Stephen Hawking has superb health care, as does my sister, who also has MND.

  5. The problem as it appears to me from outside the US is that the running is being made not by concerned citizens who have genuine questions about changes to their health care system, but by an alliance between Republicans and the health insurance industry. Big business interests will stop at nothing to manipulate public opinion, and are saying that you will be MORE likely to die under the new system, and will pay more for the privilege. The Hitler stuff is one small step further.

    What's depressing is that the Democrats haven't found an effective way to counter all this.

    And people in the UK who talk down the NHS bear some responsibility too, IMO.

  6. Exactly, shows the quality of research the nay-sayers have done.

  7. Jenny - I'm sure you're right, it's the Republicans and insurance companies who're driving this campaign, backed of course by huge wads of cash. But individuals are also gormlessly parroting the lies rather than thinking it all through for themselves.

    As you say, the Democrats seem yet again too gob-smacked and confused by the ferocity of their opponents to mount an effective counter-campaign. Agreed also, we Brits should recognise the strengths of the NHS as well as harping on the weaknesses.

  8. Godwin's Law is alive and well I see.

  9. Thrifty - They don't let the facts get in the way of a good hate-fest.

  10. Thrifty - All discussions tend eventually to call on Nazi analogies? He's certainly right in this case. Except that this time the Nazi smear seems to be the starting point.

  11. I don't understand how they can get away with such dangerous lies - what's at stake is far too serious to reduce it to 'a little rabble-rousing'.

  12. Conor - You're right, it's a very nasty attempt to make sure those who're deprived of proper health care stay deprived.

  13. OH boy, Nick, you've touched on an issue that has been worrying me very much. This controversy, I believe, is not about health care reform--rather, it boils down to the very question of whether everyone in our democracy, Republicans, Democrats, radicals on both sides--when I say everyone, I mean everyone--may exercise their First Amendment right to be heard.

    Republicans (and it's not just Republicans, there are many Democratic dissenters) who have been attending the town hall-style meetings are being accused here of being tied to lobby groups, and in fact most of them are just a voice of dissent, plain and simple, or tied to smaller party groups, which are not lobby-connected. I think many protesters and everyone who disagrees with Obama's policies are quite disturbed that they are being told that they represent lobby groups--when in fact, they represent no one but themselves.

    Comparing anything to Nazism is pretty silly (and I especially as a Jew don't appreciate the dangerous cultural relativism of such statements), but still, some groups are not happy about some of the things that are going on with this administration, just as other groups of people were angry with Bush. But everyone gets their say!

    I am truly alarmed that the protesters against Obama are being taken to task here in American. Or rather, it's fine that they are taken to task, as long as nothing hampers their ability to protest non-violently. A voice of dissent is just that, in a democracy--the informal system of checks and balances that we the people have access to.

    As for Obama handling it, well, he's the president of the US! He'd darn well better handle it, and even give some respect to the protesters, because it would be un-American to quell it. Bush after all had to handle fury, venom and vitriole, so must Obama! It's the nature of the job of running a free democracy with so many voices.

    To me, there is a very worrisome trend here toward an attempt to quell voices that must be heard, no matter how much one may disagree with them.

  14. By golly, I don't think I've ever made such a long comment anywhere! How alarming.

    And p.s., just to be repetitive @Conortje: a little rabble-rousing is the very heart of a democracy! I said it jokily, but I mean it completely in earnest.

  15. Oy, I can't stay away! Just to edit what I said a bit--in response to your response--what I was trying to get at is that ALL protest is valid and viable, whether it's nicely stated or whether it's furious. As long as it's not violent!

    Also, I have to respectfully disagree with the notion that the Republicans are sort of like a big-business machine, rather than a political party made up of millions of regular, average citizens. Also, it's just simply not true that all the Republican anti-Obama protest is all big-business-driven. As I said, there are many many regular citizens who disagree with Obama!

  16. Nick, politicos everywhere will take facts out of context to suit their nefarious needs. This is universal truth. I am glad to see that you are doing your bit to set the record straight. Having some personal knowledge of the NHS of Britain, I fully endorse your views. I hope that your American readers will take this post and spread its contents widely amongst their countrymen.

  17. Leah - Please comment away to your heart's content! What you say is very interesting, particularly that many dissenters are just concerned individuals not tied to any specific grouping.

    I do agree that everyone has the right to be heard unless they're resorting to violence, and there shouldn't be any attempt to silence contrary opinions. Indeed, if Bush was expected to handle vitriolic opinions, so should Obama.

    I also take your point that Republicanism is not simply big-business driven, despite the impression over here.

    Leah, your views are a very useful corrective to some of the pro-Obama assumptions outside the US, so feel free to give us your own insider's angle!

  18. Ramana - Wow, these are far more than facts taken out of context, many of them aren't even facts but pure inventions born of over-heated minds! Death panels? Who in Heaven's name dreamt that one up?

  19. Nick, you are a truly gracious host!

  20. Leah - Well, I'm an old-fashioned English gentleman, dontcha know?

    I just watched Obama expressing his utter bewilderment at the idea of death panels on The Daily Show....

  21. It is amazing that you can tell what is happening across the expansive Atlantic and yet, folks right across the road are blinded by the base and simplistic maneuverings of an angry losing party. My belief on the human Spirit is tested everytime I bear witness to this lunacy (and it happens far too frequently). In the words of Marvin Gay "makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands". Thanks d
    for the rational thoughts!

  22. Very interesting posts and comments, Nick.

    Many lies are being spread about the Canadian health care system - I posted one myself with Bill O'Reilly featured a couple of weeks ago.

    What is mind numbing is the fact that 'socialism' is being talked of with such repugnance while no one is saying that the government/schools/civil servants have all got 'socialist' health care. Along with other socialist ills like fire fighters, police, highways, et al.

    I do hope that the 40 million uninsured get what most of the developed world have:universal health care not tied to profits.


  23. Gayle - "Base and simplistic maneuverings of an angry losing party". That seems to sum it all up very well. I just hope enough people will realise exactly how base and simplistic these crazy accusations are.

    www - Absolutely, do they not see how many "socialistic" public services they are already dependent on and grateful for? People just don't think logically or systematically.

  24. Nick - I think this is quite telling sorry I don't know how to make a link but you should be able to copy/paste

  25. A good friend of mine who is a freelance web designer just got a bill for $8K yesterday because he has no insurance. He had to go to the doctor -- put it off for two weeks and we MADE him go because he was in so much pain. He has no idea what he's going to do. But, we were talking about how what's going on here has everything to do with health insurance companies lying and spreading lies to preserve their profits and very little to do with actually wanting to ensure people lead healthy lives.

    Even the people I know who have insurance are not happy with what we have. We joke about how we should run for public office so we can get the government insurance.

    And what really kills me is that so many of the folks spreading these lies consider themselves to be Christian -- as if Christ would've put profit ahead of people. It's appalling.

    I also think people are using this health care debate as a way to take out their anger over Obama's election and what they perceive as being an end to the white dominated American way of life. Black President, Latina Supreme Court Justice just got sworn in... if they were honest, folks would admit they're angry about about more than health care.

  26. Wow Nick. Got a bite from that one! I don't see why it's so difficult. There are many quite successful health systems out there that the US could emulate. It's as if there's this campaign to quell any attempt at social democracy in the US. They're so afraid of Government control or nationalised services. Jenny's hit it on the head I think. The NHS is very much like our scheme and yes, it's far from perfect but nobody is turned away. Really interesting to see Leah's perspective but I know republicans who's argument is nothing to do with health but to do with 'control'. I might add that the republicans most against the health initiatives are wealthy, have health insurance and will never have to front to a public hospital.
    @Los Angelista . . couldn't agree more! It's not about healthcare it's about fear of losing their libertarian ideals. Crock of bullshit frankly.

  27. Conor - Thanks for the link. I think that's a very big element, all the white folks who feel so threatened by a shift of power to other people - like blacks.

    Liz - Precisely, what's so wonderful about the present system? Health care controlled by insurance companies whose primary objective is making profits, who'll turn you down or charge you extra if the contract doesn't quite cover you.

    As I said to Conor, I agree the undermining of white dominance seems a big undercurrent here.

    Baino - Yes, I think there's a big horror of social democracy because of the huge emphasis on individualism in the States. There's still a strong belief that it's up to each person to sink or swim, and if they sink why should anyone else save them?

  28. Wow, fascinating comments here. Leah, I think you drifted off the point of the post a bit. The issue I'm having with the whole health care debate is the misinformation. Of course those who disagree with the plan have a right to be heard, but I don't think they fully understand what they are protesting against! All mobs are bad, but an uninformed mob is worse, and a mob that has been purposely stoked to fury by misinformation is THE worst.

  29. @Megan--I definitely understood the point of Nick's post--I wasn't off topic at all, unfortunately, I just focused on one aspect of it, the idea that the protests themselves are a bad thing. From what I can see, the protesters understand what the health care plan is, roughly (I mean as much as anyone can at this point). But I agree that the protest isn't necessarily at bottom about the actual health care plan, although it may have been initially. I think people are now furious because their perception is that they're being quelled. And frankly, yes, I think the government is trying to quell the protests. That is scary.

  30. I'll say again, the people who disagree with the plan have a right to be heard.

    And I don't think they're being quelled. They're getting a heck of a lot of airtime.

    And Leah, I would never accuse you of not understanding something. Sorry if it sounded that way...

  31. Sarah Palin is in the forefront of those likening President Obama's plan to a death panel. Usually people as crazy as she is are not dangerous, but I believe she is because she still has a following.

    It isn't necessary that everyone like our new president, but it enrages me that there are so many vicious people unwilling to give him a chance. They would rather see people die for lack of medical care than admit that his ideas might work.

  32. Megan - I think you're right, people certainly don't understand what they're protesting about, particularly the NHS nonsense. And yes, there does seem to be a bit of a lynch-mob mentality.

    Leah - I don't have the impression the government's trying to quell the protests. If anything, they seem to be a bit overwhelmed by them and unsure how to respond.

    Heart - Sarah Palin seems crazy as a coot, and her stuff about death panels is pure invention. It strikes me too that some people would rather see a few deaths than accept the "alien" Obama.

  33. You are sure to be interested by this. BO finally seems to be taking charge of the debate.

  34. Ramana - That's excellent. How could anyone not be persuaded by that? He makes it very clear how the insurance companies are cynically exploiting the sick for the sake of fatter profits.

  35. I've been following this closely - I can't believe the scare mongering tactics actually seem to be working - how easily people are led astray

  36. Quicky - People are easily swayed by scare tactics unless they have the intelligence to think through the issues properly. The word "socialism" in particular is linked with the craziest misconceptions.

  37. How are we supposed to pay for this?
    Leah is right about the less advantaged having access to health care now. I worked admitting for a hospital for a time, and we never turned anyone away. Including the druggies, the illegals, the mentally ill, the welfare recipients and a host of others.
    I'm open to honest discussion, but this is so slanted to the demo views, that I'm not sure constructive ideas are desired here.

  38. Brighid - Surely just a tiny fraction of the gigantic US military budget would pay for the whole thing? And Obama has said there would be an extra tax on all those earning over $350,000.

    But are you saying 46 million Americans should be deprived of health insurance because it would cost too much - in one of the wealthiest nations on earth?

    I'm very open to opposing points of view. I want to know exactly what the objections are to Obama's proposals, because some of those objections may be important. An open-minded, democratic, even rowdy, debate is essential, as Leah has said.