Like millions of others around the world, I sat down in front of my television a few weeks ago to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I was thoroughly impressed by the show – the theatrics, the music, the dancers – and moved by the spirit of fellowship among the athletes.
There is much in our U.S. health care system to be proud of – cutting-edge treatments, new drug research, and many excellent care providers. But we should not let our pride get in the way of seeing our system’s shortfalls and making improvements.
I imagine some of the estimated 42 million viewers in the U.S. were puzzled, however, by the second act of the show which celebrated Great Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). With the ongoing debate in this country over health care, it must be hard for some to understand why anyone would celebrate a government-run health care system.
The NHS began in 1948 as a consolidation and expansion of existing public health programs. Its central principle was that health services would be available to all and financed entirely from taxation, which meant that people would pay into it according to their means.
To be certain, the NHS is not a perfect system. But before we dismiss it as too costly, too restrictive, or too much government interference, we should review some of the facts: In the U.S., we spend more than twice as much per person on health care as Great Britain, yet in many key health care indicators (life expectancy, infant mortality, number of doctors per 1000 people) we lag behind. Patients in Great Britain also give their health system high ratings. When asked in a recent survey, “On the whole, the system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better,” 62% of respondents in the U.K. agreed, versus only 29% in the U.S.
As Proverbs 13:10 warns, “Pride only leads to arguments, but those who take advice are wise.” (NCV) There is much in our U.S. health care system to be proud of – cutting-edge treatments, new drug research, and many excellent care providers. But we should not let our pride get in the way of seeing our system’s shortfalls and making improvements.
As a national health care system, the NHS, employs 1.7 million people, making it the world’s fifth largest employer. What is the first? The United States Defense Department. Another famous proverb speaks of where we put our treasure, there our hearts will follow… (Luke 12:34).
Currently, the U.S. Congress is debating how much to spend on the military and on social service programs such as health care. Some would like to increase the budget of the Defense Department and severely cut spending on programs such as Medicaid, which provides health services for some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Call on your members of Congress to preserve spending for health care programs and consider reducing the military budget. Ask them to take a look at universal health care systems around the world, such as the NHS in Great Britain. Before we dismiss such ideas, we should put aside our pride and see if there just might be some wisdom there.
Interested in more analysis from the MCC Washington Office? Sign up to receive our free quarterly newsletter, the Washington Memo, as well as our monthly electronic newsletter, the E-Memo.