Last year Health Secretary Alan Johnson approved 14 private companies to advise primary care trusts on local health needs. The approved list includes the US ‘big four’ health care companies Aetna, Health Dialog Services, Humana and United Health. After the National Policy Forum’s commitment to continue with privatising the commissioning of NHS services, it’s worth looking at what the future might be if Johnson, Miliband, and Brown get their way.
Americans pay $217 million per hour for their healthcare. That’s almost $2,000 billion a year, 16% of the United States’ GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Much of that money passes through the ‘big four’.
So what do Americans get for their money? According to the World Health Organisation, the US ranks 37th in the world in the provision of healthcare. That’s below Morocco, Dominica, and Costa Rica. The UK comes in at 18th.
So why does the country that spends more per head on healthcare than any other come so far down on the quality list? The reason is given by liberal commentator Ezra Klien in an article he wrote last year:
“And of course, there’s administration, where we pay $98 billion more than anyone else, $84 billion of it in oh-so-efficient private sector. 64% of those costs come from insurer underwriting and advertising – in other words, we’re paying more than $50 billion dollars so insurers can convince us we need care and then figure out how to deny those of us who’ll actually use it. That’s some added value.”
Wellpoint is the largest US health insurer. In April, WellPoint CEO Angela Braly told investors, “We will not sacrifice profitability for membership.” In other words, we won’t sell health coverage to more people if it means we will lose money. Profit comes before health provision.
The information above comes from the website of a new US campaign, Healthcare for America Now! The campaign is backed by the US United Steelworkers union, with whom Unite has recently signed a merger accord.
The campaign is not calling for a National Health Service on UK lines. Its slogan is ‘Quality, Affordable Healthcare We Can All Count On’. It accepts the continued private control of healthcare. But what it does do is expose the fallacy that ‘the market’ can somehow bring us a better quality of health care. This is one of Labour’s biggest lies.
The catstrophic failings of the US healthcare system reinforce the importance of our fight against privatisation here. This is not just about protecting NHS workers’ terms and conditions. It’s about defending a decent quality of healthcare for all of us.