Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to help you appreciate your own blessings. So it was Tuesday evening when Daniel Hannan, a British, 37-year-old member of the European Parliament, spoke at the Army and Navy Club in Washington. Mr. Hannan made a convincing case that the American health care system is far superior to the British one, and thus should not move down Britain’s path toward government control.
“Ponder our example, and tremble,” Mr. Hannan warned. “You see a grizzly picture of your own country’s possible future…. Do not make the same mistakes we have.” He continued: “I see this massive encroachment of the state… this huge power grab by the state machine… squeezing the private sector, to engorge the state.” In Great Britain, he explained, “It is not uncommon to wait six, 10, even 12 months for a knee operation.” He said, “It is exactly a Marxist system. You are treated as a supplicant and expected to be grateful for what you get. But our survival rates [in the United Kingdom] are demonstrably worse.”
It’s his advice that we should not buy into the notion of establishing a state-run system as just one option competing for business. “It expands and expands until it squeezes out every other system,” he said. “Don’t imagine that this is an experiment that can be reversed if it doesn’t work out.” The system becomes too big to kill, even though it works terribly. The 1.4 million employees of the British National Health Service make the NHS the world’s third-largest single employer, behind only the Chinese army and the Indian Railways. Yet the majority of those 1.4 million, Mr. Hannan said, are “managers,” not medical personnel.
Reports of older people being denied not just useful surgeries, but also even painkillers are legion. “The thing takes on a momentum of its own,” he said. “What you’ll end up with is a system where everybody is dragged down to the lowest” standard of care.
But Mr. Hannan’s message wasn’t all in the form of warnings. Much of it was an inspirational encomium to the virtues of the American governmental tradition, what he called “a system of government that places the maximum trust and authority in the individual. [It honors and maintains] a sturdy, free-standing citizenry. [Americans] ought to honor the vision of your founders.”
Mr. Hannan said that if we abandon those virtues for the siren song of ever-increasing government, especially in health care, “all of these things serve to make America less American… and less free. Indeed, this wouldn’t be America anymore.” He concluded that the rest of the world needs the American example ever before it to continually learn from it and emulate it.
Mr. Hannan is right. The system we Americans already enjoy is the best in the world. Allowing the state to take over the immensely personal realm of health care could strike a mortal blow against the liberty we hold dear.