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Why Are Americans Dying for Lack of Medicine?
Last uploaded : Monday 28th Jul 2003 at 01:56
Contributed by : Carol Gould


Inasmuch as I suffer from a long-term malady I never cease to feel immense sorrow when hearing about Americans foregoing their prescribed medications because they can no longer afford them.

In Britain, a prescription has a flat cost of ?6.20 -- just under $10 -- and if a patient is on medications for life he or she may purchase an ?Exemption Certificate? for ?89 ($135) a year at any chemist?s shop. The certificate entitles the holder to unlimited medications in perpetuity. When one visits a doctor or hospital, no money changes hands. If you arrive at Emergency you are taken in without fuss. No member of the human race in Great Britain will be asked ?Are you insured?? as they lie semi-conscious on the ambulance stretcher.

Critics of the National Health Service have valid grievances against the medical system of the socialised British Welfare State. Yes, it is possible to wait in Emergency for twelve to twenty hours to be seen by a doctor. Yes, people have been known to die in cubicles in the Accident and Emergency Ward due to staff shortages. Yes, people wait for many months for operations and some die whilst waiting. But the system remains one of the best in the world and has never let me down. In fact, amongst my fairly wide circle of friends and colleagues I have never heard a complaint about the NHS.The disasters make up a very small percentage compared to the superb treatment patients receive every day of the year.

The idea of emigrating to the United States terrifies me. Gun crime? No. Mugging and rape? No. Another 9/11? Not even that. I am terrified of the prospect of having to find upwards of $1,000 a month to pay for my medical insurance (if I can get it!); prescription drugs and dental care. Some American contacts have warned me that at my age it could be impossible to be newly insured. Another friend tells me she has maxed three credit cards for dental work. In the UK, the worst scenario in the dentist's chair will set one back $1,000 in an entire year and if one is unemployed or on Sickness Benefit the care is 90% subsidised.

When I was taken ill in Israel I received superb treatment and was never harassed for money. In the present hospital crisis generated by the al Aqsa Intifadah I would insist on making a donation as a non-Israeli. Though the Israeli medical provision is not structured in quite the same way as that of the British NHS, it remains a compassionate system. When I have offered to pay a British doctor he or she recoils; it is considered a form of insult to offer an NHS practitioner remuneration.

How is it that a nation that prides itself on living by Christian values and on ?compassionate conservatism? can allow its citizens to curl up and die because they cannot afford proper medical care and prescription drugs? The argument put forward by pharmaceutical companies is that research is horrendously expensive and that a flood of ?cheap imports? to the USA will cause them severe financial hardship.( Indeed, Americans have been organising charabancs -- bus trips -- to Canada to buy subsidised medications.) So why are European and British pharma giants not going bust? They are conducting as much research as anyone else.

Americans are even being frightened into believing that ?faulty? cheap drugs will make their way into the USA from ?foreign countries.? Well, the pills we take here in the UK are manufactured in all sorts of places and nobody I know has died after taking their daily dose. The 75mg a day of aspirin I take each day comes from a packet covered in an exotic script and my little cholesterol pill is made in a country I still can?t find in my world atlas. I?m not keeling over and my cholesterol level is perfect.

When Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy tried in vain to devise a nationalised medical system for Americans they were nearly run out of town. My simple argument is this: nationalised health and dental services, along with subsidised pharmaceuticals have not bankrupted the nations in which such systems thrive. Since its inception after the Second World War, the NHS has yet to cause the collapse of the British economy under the weight of the subsidised system.

Some in Britain choose to have private health insurance in order to bypass ?NHS waiting lists? and to have a bit of luxury when in hospital. Our private hospitals are impressive if you like recovering in Ritz-like surroundings. However, having lived through the tragedy of a friend needlessly dying in childbirth last year because the posh private clinic in which she was giving birth had no cardiac emergency unit, I am dubious of the value of some private systems. Had she been in an NHS hospital she might have had a better chance of being alive today.

When I was a big earner more years ago than I care to recall, I felt guilty about using the NHS and chose to have a private doctor and go to private clinics. To illustrate how Americans are being suffocated by health providers, even these luxurious British facilities cost a fraction of the charges I would have had to pay in the USA.

It is time Americans and their leaders confronted the dictatorship that is bankrupting them: the pharmaceutical giants and medical insurance providers must be brought to heel with a complete overhaul of the American health system.

Yesterday I saw a clip of American soldiers in Iraq handing out boxes and boxes of what the reporter described as ?much-needed drugs.? The Iraq occupation is costing billions of tax dollars. I was pro-invasion; I like to say I was ?pro-liberation.? But if the American taxpayer can be drained of billions for a military operation that includes free medications for Iraqis is it not time Americans at home had similar relief?


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