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Time for serious talk, not horror stories, on health care
Scare tactics make thoughtful discussion of universal health care tough

Date published: 8/23/2009

ON A RECENT trip back home to Britain, I got to see how my fellow countrymen were struggling under the National Health Service--the kind of system that is being characterized here as the epitome of evil.

I found the population reeling not from illness and inadequacies of the NHS, but from the bold distortions that are being bandied about in the U.S.

The most widely reported of these dis-tortions is what Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in a radio interview that was reported on by National Public Radio and many other outlets. Grassley's comment: That in England, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has brain cancer, "would not get the care that he gets here [in the U.S.] because of his age."

"Untrue" a spokesperson for the British Department of Health told The Guardian, a British newspaper. "There is no ban on anyone of any age receiving any treatment."

There are many falsehoods and distortions being circulated about the British system, The Guardian reported. And I think it's important to talk about them because these "horror stories" get in the way of reasonable debate about health care reform.

Personally, I have had patients tell me you can't get dialysis in England if you are over 65, and that all the people from countries with nationalized health care are coming to the U.S. for treatment.

And television ads--such as those by Conservatives for Patient Rights--are scaring people by showing horror stories about people who didn't get proper care from the NHS.

But "for every story you hear of someone being denied treatment in Britain, I can tell you many more from here [in the U.S.] about people not being treated because they are uninsured or underinsured," Dr. Peter Meacher, medical director of the South Bronx Medical Center, told the Sunday Telegraph.


Meacher is seeing, perhaps slightly more intensely, what all we doctors see--the struggle with the present system.

I have seen plenty of patients here in the Fredericksburg area fighting to get treatment or tests authorized. I've seen old folks, especially, who can't afford their medicines. And I've seen patients who can't get the tests and treatments they need because they can't afford the insurance--or because they have some pre-existing condition that means insurance companies won't cover them.

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