Or why the NHS bill will make us all poorer in every way
At 27 I didn’t consider myself innocent. Then I left the UK and moved to Germany, and lost something that up until that point I didn’t even know I had. From birth, unquestioning access to free healthcare had instilled in me a sense of worth, value, happiness and security.
In Germany, where the system is an expensive and complex minefield of private and ‘public’ insurance, and where unequivocal advice is frustratingly hard to come by, my NHS security blanket was gone and the game commenced. The wrangling with insurance companies, the fear of going to the doctor in case (s)he diagnosed something I wasn’t covered for, the way they make you jump through hoops like you have to prove entitlement to a treatment that could ultimately save your life. The game in which preexisting medical conditions are shameful aspects of the past to be suppressed like dark secrets. Luckily, the doctors in Germany are more than happy to ‘misdiagnose’ – in other words, you can tell them what you’re covered for and what not, and they’ll write up your medical report accordingly.
In a country famed for transparency, it seems that some of the most respected members of society are corrupted by a system in which access to healthcare is far from equal. Visit the doctor with a private insurance policy and you’ll be seen immediately. The doctor is also likely to refer you to another specialist for another treatment or consultation – they keep you in an expensive loop, passing around patients whose insurance policies will pay out. Those with less cover wait longer and experience far fewer referrals, and in this chaotic mess where financial interests are inextricably linked to individuals’ well-being, it’s impossible to know which treatments are essential and which are frivolous.
I’ll admit I cried a lot at first. To think that there are people out there whose job it is to price up my life, that it can be valued like a commodity. I’d never truly comprehended the value of the NHS not only to my well-being, but also to my sense of it. Leaving the UK stripped me of a naivety I never knew I had, and though the depression lifted, there’s no going back: a bitter cynicism endures.
We already know that the NHS bill is undemocratic. We know that most health professionals oppose it. We know that it will create unequal access to healthcare. We know that it will be wide open to corruption and line the pockets of the already rich and powerful. We know it will allow the Tories that vacuous but apparently essential victory of finally assigning a financial value to everything, abstract and concrete (the environment’s next). We know all this.
The worst thing though, is that it will corrupt the people. Put a price on our kidneys, Mr. Cameron, on our lungs, our livers, our hearts, and what becomes of your Big Society? Strip away the last shreds of our incredulity, and the result will be a malady that no amount of money can cure.