Our health care’s not so bad, Brits point out

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In the heated exchanges flying back and forth about President Obama’s proposed health care reform, some barbs have been landing a bit far afield, namely, on the other side of the Atlantic. And while moaning about the National Health Service (NHS)—the United Kingdom’s universal health care provider—may be a favorite pastime for Brits, enduring heaps of criticism from their American cousins has prompted some vigorous defense, a few counterattacks, and even a little introspection.

It appears that, through the clamor and overblown horror stories, there are a few salient points—and voices of reason—emerging. The BBC put together some striking figures comparing the health outcomes of four countries with four different health care systems: the U.S., the U.K., France and Singapore. On life expectancy at birth and infant mortality rates they point out—in bright red—that the U.S. lags behind the three other nations, which, incidentally each have at least some publicly provided care, spend less per capita annually on health care and devote a smaller percentage of their country’s GDP to health care. Life expectancy, they show, is 78.1 years in the U.S., compared to 79.1 years for the U.K., 79.7 years for Singapore, and 81 years for France.

The Washington Post ran a piece today by Ara Darzi, Britain’s ambassador for health and life sciences, and Tom Kibasi, an honorary lecturer at Imperial College in London, that lays out the basics of how the NHS works, drawing comparisons to other nations’ systems, and hoping to dispel widely held beliefs about month-long wait times to see doctors and rationing of care. They wrap up the editorial with this zinger:

“[I]t is undeniable that the way a health system is organized and operated makes a difference. Americans fear that countries such as Britain and Canada ration care—and that such rationing could and should never be tolerated in the United States. Yet 47 million uninsured is quite an extreme form of rationing.”