N.Y. Times Reporter Piles On Support of Britain's 'Free' Health Service

In a Friday story headlined "Britons Fault Health Service, Until Someone Else Does," Times London correspondent Sarah Lyall singled out Republican criticism of British health care, citing tiny protests, larger Twitter campaigns, and exercised editorials in The Economist magazine about "irresponsible distortions" by conservatives in America.

While Britons love to complain about waiting lists, disparities in treatment, "infection-breeding hospitals" and "top-heavy bureaucracy," they are seemingly unanimous in opposition to Obama critics:

They are furious, for example, that the health service is being held up as an example of the failures of socialized medicine by Americans opposed to President Obama’s health care proposals. On Wednesday, several dozen people rallied in front of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, holding up pro-N.H.S. signs.

"The N.H.S. is not perfect," the rally’s organizer, Bruce Kent, told reporters, "but it is being really badly abused in the U.S.A., and on utterly unreasonable grounds."

Mr. Kent said the health service saved his life in 2001, when he was operated on for prostate cancer. If he had had to pay for his treatment, he said, the cost "would probably have put me on the streets."

Lyall did not explain to Times readers that Kent is a radical leftist, a longtime member and leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a former Labour Party candidate for Parliament.

On Sunday, Lyall concocted her own ideology-driven distortion as she defended the NHS in a "Week in Review" piece: "Certainly, as someone who in the 1980s paid $333 to have an emergency room doctor at Georgetown University Hospital remove a piece of toilet paper from my ear after I had unsuccessfully tried to use it as an earplug, I applaud a system that is free."

A taxpayer-funded health service is never "free," but relies on heavy taxation.

Lyall’s Friday story kept up the one-sided protest against conservative Americans:

Arguments against the health service by Republicans overlook the fact that while it costs half as much per person as the American system costs, "it delivers results which are on some plausible measures actually superior," The Economist said in a stern editorial. "And it does this while avoiding the disgrace that so shames America, of leaving around 46 million people, some 15 percent of its population, without any form of health insurance."

A Twitter campaign, We Love The N.H.S., is still going strong, with supporters sending messages about their own good experiences. More than 27,000 people have signed an online petition urging Americans "to ignore the myths about health systems in our country and others that are being pushed by U.S. health care companies" and to engage in a "healthy and honest debate."

Lyall underlined that all three major parties in Britain protest American attacks on the NHS, including the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron:

In a speech on Thursday, Mr. Cameron said the Conservatives were "the party of the N.H.S."

And commentators continue to be amazed at what, in their minds, is an irresponsible distortion of the argument by people from across the Atlantic.

"If American politicians peddle falsehoods about what goes on in other countries," The Economist wrote, "Americans are correspondingly less likely to appreciate the extent to which they are being let down."

Lyall doesn’t mention that The Economist editorial on how "rationing is not a four-letter word" complete with a LaRouchite Obama-Hitler photo to demean conservatives) peddles ideology along with its scolding on facts, putting the word "socialist" in quotes as a supposedly inaccurate description of the NHS.

The second thing to lament about the current apology for a debate is that it is giving the idea of controlling health-care costs a bad name. Mr Obama promised that his reform package would bring down costs, as well as extend coverage. But so spooked has the administration become by accusations of "rationing" health care, as is done in "socialist" systems like the NHS, that very little cost control is now to be expected from whatever bill eventually emerges.

The reality is that America, like Britain, already makes extensive use of rationing. Around half of all Americans are covered by one government programme or another, including those providing health-insurance for the elderly, the poor and government employees. These schemes lay down in great detail, in the form of national and local "coverage determinations", which treatments and procedures can be claimed for, and at what rates. And all but the most expensive private insurance policies impose limitations of their own. A more honest discussion would accept that cutting costs, as the administration has promised to do, must involve reining in a system that encourages patients to demand tests and procedures that they don’t really need and doctors to recommend them.

The Economist thinks it’s perfectly fine for a strong command-and-control government to lecture individual Americans that they won’t be getting "tests and procedures they don’t really need" – such as people with chronic back pain or life-saving operations for the elderly.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis