Stephen Amidon has a really great, straightforward defense of Britain’s health services up at Salon, in response to wingnuts who trot out the so-called horrors of the NHS in their attempts to shut down American health care reform, of which no plan has much in common with the NHS. Which is too bad, because reading Amidon’s descriptions of health care access in Britain—doctor’s visits, hospital visits, home visits from the doctor, all performed with great care and minimal paperwork—will make Americans fill with longing, especially when we consider the way insurance companies force us to swim in seas of paperwork so they can deny us coverage. Most of Amidon’s story centers around the traumatic birth of his daughter, who had serious health problems for weeks after being born that forced her into intensive care. The service they received was top notch, and better than anything you could get in the U.S. by the simple virtue of the fact that they could focus on their daughter and her health without constantly filling out paperwork and fighting with the insurance company to force them to pay. Care was needed; care was provided. It’s a level of common sense that seems beyond even the best proposals offered by our congress critters in the U.S.
But I was particularly taken with this passage:
As my blindfolded daughter slept in the incubator’s eerie violet glow, I would take occasional strolls through the ward. It was the most egalitarian place I had ever seen. The yuppie woman honking into her newfangled cell phone, the young Pakistani mother who always seemed to be surrounded by a half-dozen gift-bearing relations, the self-sufficient older woman desperate to get home to look after her other children — all of them were cared for in exactly the same manner. Whoever needed help got it. When a terrified Afghani girl arrived, rumored to be only 14 and apparently abandoned by her family, several nurses dropped what they were doing to teach her the rudiments of child care. The rest of the mothers waited patiently until they were finished. Other wards were the same. There was no private wing with champagne service. Everybody was in this together. If you were a woman and you were in labor and you were in our part of London, this is where you came. If things went wrong, skilled doctors appeared with the latest technology. Nobody asked about insurance or co-pays.
This is exactly the nightmare of equality that is sending the conservatives into a tailspin that sends them to town halls to scream at their representatives. The lips trembling, the eyes flashing, the whole thing—the wingnuts of America are afraid of living what Amidon describes. They don’t want racial minorities and people without means sharing spaces with them, and especially not when they’re sick and being reminded that they’re the same flesh and blood as everyone else. The idea that a 14-year-old immigrant might get service first because she needs it more, and that there’s no way to pull rank? That’s the sort of thing that keeps the nutters up at night. When we say that the protesters are fundamentally racist, this is what we mean. They want health care access to be a privilege, a marker of class status. You or I might hear the story of an abandoned 14-year-old Afghani immigrant who gives birth and gets treated, probably for the first time in a long time, like a human being, and we support that. It seems obvious that the girl has suffered enough, and that she needs help, not continued mistreatment. But not everyone has that level of empathy. They’re focused solely on their own potential to lose some status if others have the right to be treated like human beings, and they just can’t get past that.
All the more, I say, to stop worrying about appeasing them and start just doing the right thing, whether they like it or not.