In their proposed “budget,” House Republicans cite a couple of horror stories from Great Britain to illustrate why they are so strongly opposed to government-run health care. These cases, they argue, demonstrate that “under a government-run health system, bureaucrats would exercise increasing control over all health care decision-making and would resort to rationing of care as the sole means to control skyrocketing costs.”
The first case cited by the GOP involves Ann Marie Rogers, right, “who in 2006 filed a groundbreaking lawsuit in Britain seeking to force her local health care bureaucrat to pay for the breast cancer drug Herceptin.” They also quote Rogers:
“It makes me so angry that these trusts are playing God, saying ‘you can’t have this, you can’t have that.’ They’ve got no right to decide who can have this life-saving drug. This is not a poor country, after all. I have worked all my life and paid my taxes. It makes me sick to think a lot of women are in my position.”
The second case involves Ian Dobbin of Yorkshire, who was also refused a particular cancer treatment. Dobbin called the decision “a death sentence for me.”
“I feel absolutely gutted because there is no way I can find that sort of money. My life is dependent on getting this drug and without it I will die…. I’ve been paying my national insurance all my life and when it comes to the point that I need it to keep me alive, they are not prepared to help.”
Now, there’s a bit more to each of those heartbreaking stories. The Republicans don’t mention that Collins appealed the government decision and won her case, gaining access to Herceptin. But after a valiant battle, she died of cancer earlier this month. In Dobbin’s case, traditional chemotherapy had failed to halt his leukemia and he was seeking government payment for a drug that had not been tested on his disease. He got funding for the experimental treatment through an unknown private donor, but I can find no record of whether that treatment worked for him.
The larger point, however, is that both stories sound utterly familiar to Americans. There is nothing strange to them, nothing that makes them unique to a government-run insurance program. In fact, versions of those stories appear in American newspapers and TV news programs on almost a daily basis.
The only difference is that on this side of the Atlantic, the villain who denies coverage is some private insurance company bureaucrat; over there, the villain is a government bureaucrat.
The truth is that every insurance program — private or public — has to ration health care. There’s no getting around it. So when I hear conservatives complain that a single-payer system will mean that health care is rationed, or that some bureaucrat will intervene in decisions between you and your doctor, I have to wonder what world they live in.
Because that happens today, every day, under our current system. Insurance companies dictate health care decisions all the time.
One difference between the private and public system is motive. Under private insurance, the people making the decision on whether you get coverage are driven by the profit motive to say no. The more treatment they deny, the more money they’re going to make.