A New York Times story discusses the fundamental problem with universal health care supplied by the state.
Created 60 years ago as a cornerstone of the British welfare state, the National Health Service is devoted to the principle of free medical care for everyone. But recently it has been wrestling with a problem its founders never anticipated: how to handle patients with complex illnesses who want to pay for parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free from the health service.
Although the government is reluctant to discuss the issue, hopscotching back and forth between private and public care has long been standard here for those who can afford it. But a few recent cases have exposed fundamental contradictions between policy and practice in the system, and tested its founding philosophy to its very limits.
One such case was Debbie Hirstâ€™s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologistâ€™s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.
By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.
â€œHe looked at me and said: â€˜Iâ€™m so sorry, Debbie. Iâ€™ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,â€™ â€ Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.
â€œI said, â€˜Where does that leave me?â€™ He said, â€˜If you pay for Avastin, youâ€™ll have to pay for everythingâ€™ â€ â€” in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.
Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.
Patients â€œcannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,â€ the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.
â€œThat way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,â€ Mr. Johnson said.
Government simply will never be able to afford to deliver state-of-the-art health care to everyone, but it also won’t feel that it can afford to let you pay for your own. That wouldn’t be equal. So, go home and die! the government is going to wind up telling people. You can’t have the health care that you can afford to pay for yourself, because everybody else can’t have it.
Somehow I don’t think Hillary or Obama are going to mention that little detail.