One of the joys of being on sabbatical in London is access to a multitude of scrappy daily newspapers. At the moment, they are giving a lot of ink to US squabbles over health care reform and, of course, to the use of the British National Health Service (NHS) as a bogeyman to warn against government care. Some journalists feel obliged to defend the NHS, and it certainly has its strengths. The Sunday Times, though, in a recent, very thorough comparison of the US and British systems concluded that the Brits get much better results in some areas (such as cost-effectiveness) and the Americans do better in others (such as cancer survival rates).
Sunday Times analysts, though, encouraged people in both countries to stop fighting over whose system was best and consider the experience of countries who [that?] are achieving better outcomes than either - for example, France and Italy. These two countries ranked first and second, respectively in the World Health Organization's 2000 ratings based on spending, outcomes, accessibility, fairness of financial contributions, etc. France has mandatory health insurance for all, spends 11 % of GDP on health (compared to 16% in the US) and has lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy than either the US or Britain, according the Times. So perhaps US citizens seeking revolution in healthcare should turn to the country that came to our aid in our original revolution.
As for me, I went round yesterday to the local NHS surgery (meaning clinic, not a place where you go under the knife) and signed up for the duration of my stay in the UK. All I had to submit was my passport and proof of London address; I faced no queries about ability to pay (in contrast to the "wallet biopsy" I would have experienced in the US). This may be the height of British good manners - not only are the Brits providing health care for this foreign guest, but the surgery staff uttered not a word about the irony of an American showing up to enjoy a system so often reviled at home.