Saturday, February 23, 2008

Paying Patients Test British Health Care System

New York Times reported Created 60 years ago as a cornerstone of the British welfare state, the National Health Service is devoted to the principle of free medical care for everyone. But recently it has been wrestling with a problem its founders never anticipated: how to handle patients with complex illnesses who want to pay for parts of their treatment while receiving the rest free from the health service.

Take note of this when Hillary and Obama talk about their socialized health care plans
Although the government is reluctant to discuss the issue, hopscotching back and forth between private and public care has long been standard here for those who can afford it. But a few recent cases have exposed fundamental contradictions between policy and practice in the system, and tested its founding philosophy to its very limits.

One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment. By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor. “He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview. “I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.
No, rich patients can still pay for, and receive the best. This just penalizes the iddle class, that can't pay for one thing they need, and get the rest like everyone else.
Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament. “That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.
Which is everyone gets the same bad health care.
Betsy Newmark blogged This is what happens with a nationalized health plan. Do Americans want to be told by the government that they can't spend their own money on their own treatment? I don't think so.... Ironically, the NHS is now willing to pay for Mrs. Hirst's treatment because her cancer has metastasized and she's now so sick that they're willing to pick up the tab for Avastin. Sadly, with her cancer spreading, they might not have to pay for very long.

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