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Bloggers debate British healthcare

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Conservatives accuse the NHS of rationing healthcare

As the US healthcare debate hots up during Congress's summer recess, anti-reform campaigners have been directing criticisms across the Atlantic at the UK healthcare system.

The most recent row erupted after an editorial at the Investors Business Daily (IBD) launched an attack on the British National Health Service (NHS), as a warning against what could happen if the US adopted such a model.

"The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof are legendary," the article said. "The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror movie script."

The article's author went on to assert that "people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman quickly pointed out, Prof Hawking was born in the UK, and has lived and worked there for his entire life.

And UK newspapers the Guardian and Daily Telegraph reported Prof Hawking as saying that he "wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS".

Basic stupidity

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein said the IBD article was an example of conservatives "lying" about healthcare.

"It's not just that they didn't know that Stephen Hawking was born in England. It's that the underlying point was wrong, as you'll note from the continued existence of Stephen Hawking. They didn't choose an unfortunate example for an accurate point. They simply lied."

The New Republic's Jason Zengerle - while endorsing Mr Klein's objections to the IBD's article - was not convinced that the article's author should be given the credit for a conscious lie.

"The point the IBD writer was trying to make would have at least been theoretically plausible if, as the writer believed, Hawking was not British," Mr Zengerle wrote.

It's worth emphasizing, for those who remain confused and misled, that Democratic reform proposals would not create a British system
Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

"I'm just reluctant to credit the IBD writer with the sufficient smarts to concoct such a lie. Seems like basic stupidity is the easier explanation here."

The IBD's fundamental charge was that President Obama's healthcare plans would lead to the rationing of healthcare, and that rationing is a feature of the British system.

This point was echoed by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin , who warned that "the effects of socialised medicine in Britain - engineered by government-run cost-cutting panels on which Obamacare would be modelled - continue to wreak havoc on the elderly and infirm."

In making this point, Ms Malkin was explicitly re-affirming the assertion made by former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, that Mr Obama wanted to create a "death panel" to decide whether the elderly or disabled are "worthy of health care".

Top topic

Liberal bloggers in the US have rejected the accusations made by these prominent conservatives.

Washington Monthly's Steve Benen argued that the healthcare plans put forward by Mr Obama and his fellow Democrats bore no resemblance to the UK system.

"It's worth emphasizing, for those who remain confused and misled, that Democratic reform proposals would not create a British system. The comparison doesn't even make sense in any substantive way, and the very premise of the IBD attack, which has been widely parroted by the far-right, reflects a fundamental lack of intellectual honesty and seriousness."

Matthew Yglesias, blogger for the liberal Centre for American Progress, lamented the fact that Mr Obama was not planning to follow the British example.

"The NHS is a pretty great model and the British are on to something... if you were actually able to get British levels of care for British price levels [in the US] you could redirect [the savings] to trying to improve the social circumstances of the poor, trying to reduce exposure to health hazards, and building infrastructure (trains, sidewalks, bike paths, even the dread parks) suited to less sedentary lifestyles. We'd be much better off that way."

The American conservatives' criticisms of the NHS, and an appearance by British Conservative MEP Dan Hannan on Fox News , in which he bemoaned the state of healthcare in the UK, has prompted thousands of British Twitter users to rush to its defence.

By early Wednesday evening UK time, the #WeLoveTheNHS hashtag had become one of the top trending topics on the global site.

Some Twitter users, like Luke Richards, offered general words of support.

"I'm proud of our health service. It's one of this country's best achievements of the past century," he wrote.

Others, like Claire Thompson of Reading, highlighted the life-saving treatment that they or their friends and relatives have received.

"My father had heart surgery last year, and my husband's life was saved after a fall - not perfect, but great when it matters," she tweeted.

Most seemed to reflect the feeling that despite its shortcomings, the British remain defiantly proud of the health service in the face of transatlantic criticism.



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