Cal Thomas: NHS lessons for Obamacare

BY CAL THOMAS Published: July 12, 2013
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The power of television to shrink the world has always amazed me. Eating lunch on the road to Fort William, a man at the next table recognizes me and introduces himself.

Keith Farrington says he spent 15 years working as an assistant director of finance for the South East Thames Regional Health Authority, part of the National Health Service. He has strong warnings for the United States about Obamacare.

“The main problem is that the NHS is seen as free on delivery to everybody,” Farrington said. “It is not free. The clinicians have not been trained to think about finance and budgetary control as important. For example, overseas citizens can obtain an NHS number when they visit a doctor's office. This number is seen as a passport to full NHS care, including operations and aftercare because the clinicians say it is not their job to sort out who is eligible and who is not. In this way, billions of pounds are spent on noneligible folk. … Word has got round in Nigeria, Ghana, India and Pakistan that it is possible to receive treatment on the U.K. taxpayer without restraint and cheaper than paying in their own countries.”

Obama claims that won't happen here. “The reforms I am proposing,” he said in 2009, “would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Partly true. With Obamacare, noncitizens would not be covered and would not be subject to the individual mandate, but they could still walk into any ER and get treated on the taxpayer's dime.

With such open-ended spending in the U.K., the predictable has occurred. The NHS faces a 30 billion pound deficit by 2020 and, according to Tim Kelsey, director for patients and information at NHS England, is set to “run out of cash.”

Each time I visit the U.K. I read about NHS horror stories. The Scottish Daily Mail reported on three brutal killings that might have been prevented were it not for a “catalogue of failings by a (NHS-operated) mental health trust.” One of the men had been refused treatment for failing to register with a local doctor.

An investigation by the U.K. Daily Telegraph found that some patients are forced to wait up to eight hours inside ambulances because there are not enough beds inside hospitals. Senior NHS doctors and managers say up to 20 hospitals across the country may close to avoid financial ruin. If you are sick on a weekend, fewer doctors are available. The Telegraph quotes senior officials as saying 4,000 lives a year are lost because of poor weekend care. These officials call the current trend in the NHS “unsustainable.”