The bitter irony of using the financial crisis to scrap the NHS
This post first appeared on the UK Uncut blog
Around 50% of American bankruptcies are triggered by medical bills. When we talk of ‘sub-prime mortgages’, we are talking about real people facing financial ruin. The main reason that these Americans are thrown out of their homes is that they get sick.
When a whole economic system is rotten you can’t solely blame one corner for its collapse. But you can say that this piece too has failed. And so it is with healthcare in the USA. One of the main reasons that our global economy fell apart is that in the richest county on earth, hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes when they became ill. They had to choose between their house and their health. They defaulted on their mortgages.
Bankers had built vast towers of imagined wealth by gambling on the value of these houses. As medical bills soared, as more and more families faced foreclosure, the towers toppled. They crushed an economy that had come to worship their mad, majestic height.
And so the corporations who run America’s healthcare hold huge responsibility for the credit crunch. It is they who caused the bankruptcies. It is they who forced people from their homes. It is they who kicked the base from our teetering jenga economy.
And it is they who are now trying to take control of Britain’s healthcare. When Andrew Lansley talks of NHS reform, we need to be clear what he is talking about. Because ‘reform’ isn’t what The Lancet call it. They call it “the end of our National Health Service”. What the government is attempting is not a re-structuring. It is an auction.
And as in all auctions, the winner will be the highest bidder. That’s why America’s medical corporations are so desperate for the Health and Social Care Bill to pass. That’s why companies like United Health have been so delighted to bankroll the Government’s favourite think tanks. For they know that this Secretary of State is doing his best to roll the NHS onto its back so they can gorge on its soft belly. And let’s be clear too about the scale of this gorging. In 2010, Stephen J. Hemsley, chief executive of United Health personally received $10,810,131. Unlike our relatively lean NHS, the company is bloated and inefficient: it bears the blubber of its corporate fat-cats.
When we are told that these corporations will improve efficiency in our care, this is simply a lie. Every fact, every international comparison, every statistic, every fact shows that private healthcare systems with their overpaid executives and demanding shareholders have much higher overheads. All these companies know of is the efficiency of the crammed commuter train, the efficiency of the under-staffed call centre, the efficiency to rapidly enriching their executives: the efficiency of asset strippers and of profiteers. This is not the same as the efficiency of a well run healthcare system.
These companies have built for themselves the most expensive and exploitative healthcare system on earth – the American system President Obama worked so hard to reform. Their executives have forced millions of sick people into bankruptcy so they can continue to lounge in luxury. They are inefficient and ineffective, greedy and destructive. They have no place on our island. In Britain, medical decisions are based on need, not corporate greed. They are made for patients, not for profits. And we must stand together and ensure that we never forget this. For generations, people in this country fought for a National Health Service. Our grandparents came home from the carnage of the Second World War and they finally built it. For 60 years, we have worked to defend their creation, their gift to us: a healthcare system owned by all of us, run for all of us. Now, our grandparent’s legacy faces its biggest attack. Now, we must build its biggest defence.
But we must do more than protect the NHS. It was not just America’s corporate healthcare that caused economic catastrophe. And when we do think back, it is astonishing to realise that almost nothing has been done to restructure our banks.
It is a bitter irony that Cameron’s government is using the chaos of a financial crisis to scrap the NHS and replace it with the seeds of the American model which contributed so much to this crisis. It is absolutely outrageous that nothing has been done to reform the banks who delivered the crash. On Saturday, we will insist that this ludicrous inversion is ended. We will take action in bank branches all over Britain. We will demand that the government remove its hatchet from our NHS, and turn it on the bloated banks. Join us.