Britain's health care system

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The contentious healthcare reform debate is the US political story right now. The debate is a noisy one, especially when members of congress hold town meetings on the subject. In a few minutes we're going to here what a couple of foreign correspondents based here in the US make of all the noise. First though we turn to Britain which is often dragged into the American debate because of the UK's National Health Service. The NHS is a fully government-run system. By contrast the so-called public option being considered in Washington would exist along side the current employer-based system here. Yet some critics in the United States are suggesting that the NHS is exactly the kind of bureaucratic and inefficient system Americans would get stuck with if healthcare reform passes. Those are fighting words for folks in Britain who champion their National Health Service. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: Warning to Americans whatever you do don't get sick in Britain. At least that's what recent advertisements from a group opposed to the president's healthcare reforms seem to suggest.

MAN IN COMMERCIAL: Before Congress rushes to overall healthcare listen to those who already have a government-run healthcare.

WOMAN IN COMMERCIAL: In Britain Katie Brickell: denied the Pap test that could have saved her from cervical cancer. Kate Spall: her mother suffered on a wait list as her renal cancer became terminal. Angela French: cost-cutting keeps her waiting for the medication she needs to stay alive.

MAN IN COMMERCIAL: Hear those tragic stories and more at CP Rights dot org. Tell Congress to listen too.

LYNCH: The Fox news channel recently brought in a real live Brit � Conservative member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan � to share his long-standing condemnation of the NHS with American viewers.

FOX NEWS INTERVIEWER: The universal right to medicine that is just fantastic in your country. Tell me about how great universal healthcare is.

DANIEL HANNAN: The most striking thing about it is that you are very often just sent to the back of the queue. You turn up with a complaint with an ailment and you're told okay how about October of next year or whatever it is.

LYNCH: One US newspaper even claimed that famed British physicist Stephen Hawking � severely disabled with motor neuron disease � wouldn't have a chance in the UK. Well Britain is used to getting kicked around whenever Americans debate healthcare but this time they're finding new ways to fight back. Hawking quickly made it clear he wouldn't be alive today if not for Britain's health service. Many others � thousands and thousands � are sticking up for the NHS via Twitter.

DAN MOSS: What we saw yesterday, around this time yesterday, Twitter users started mentioning the term we love the NHS in the thousands.

LYNCH: Dan Moss helped to start the online campaign.

MOSS: So one Tweet reads, �My neighbor got cancer. Radiotherapy, home visits, nurses, dieticians, physios � three years later still alive and not bankrupt. We love the NHS.� Steven Fry � a popular Twitter user that we all know in this country � said, �Know this Republicans even the most right-wing British politician wouldn't think of dismantling our health service.� Another says, �We love the NHS because we don't have to think about whether we can afford life-saving treatment when an emergency happens.�

LYNCH: Dr. Geoffrey Rivett, who's worked in and studied Britain's National Health Service for decades admits the NHS isn't perfect. But he believes it provides a convenient target for those who are resisting all change in the United States.

GEOFFREY RIVETT: Of course America does not need to adopt a British system. Every developed country in the world has universal coverage with the exception of the United States. There are dozens of models � employer contribution, insurance-based, tax-based. The idea that you have got to put out one particular puppet and knock it down is a debating technique. It's not a rational argument.

LYNCH: Watching all this from London where he's lived for five years, American health policy researcher, Zack Cooper, has divided loyalties.

ZACK COOPER: So if you asked me if I were fully insured, if I had terrific access to the health system and I got cancer where would I want to be? I'd say America. If I were living in Duluth, Minnesota, if I were unemployed or owned a small business, didn't have health insurance, got cancer. Where would I want to be? I'd probably say here � here in England.

LYNCH: But in the heat of the debate Cooper believes something important has been lost � a chance for both countries to learn from each other.
COOPER: So we had this opportunity to see different elements of what worked in another system and instead of looking at those we got very, very scared and we've actually started pulling back.

LYNCH: But there's no sign that those waging the battle of ideas are laying down their rhetorical weapons in what some believe is a very unhealthy debate. For The World I'm Laura Lynch in London.