IT’S the 4th of July today. “So what,” you’re probably thinking, as you curse another week without award-winning columnist Barry Gibson.
You probably care not for today’s date as you’re more than likely British or from somewhere in Europe.
But if by some slim chance you’re American then I’m sure you’re rejoicing that it’s Independence Day, or as many friendly but slightly misinformed Yanks always tell me: “The time when we kicked you Limeys out.”
For the historically challenged among you, Independence Day commemorates the United States’ freedom from British rule in 1776.
The US signed its Declaration of Independence on July 4 that year, amid the eight-year long American Revolution.
Britain actually pulled out of the US in 1783 after public support, parliamentary backing and, more importantly, cash to pay for the fighting, ran out. We weren’t defeated on the battlefield.
However, 236 years on, the USA is the most powerful country in the world while the influence of Britain wanes by the day.
In nearly every facet of life America is ahead of us.
They have better living standards, a stronger economy, more impressive cities, more notable achievements, better universities, more successful athletes ... the list goes on.
Things they don’t do as well as us are limited to making a decent cuppa, being modest and producing cars that can turn round corners ... oh, and there’s one other thing.
And it’s a big thing – providing healthcare to anyone who is not rich.
For decades decent health care in the Land of the Free has been the reserve of the wealthy.
While we Brits have enjoyed the convenience of an invoice free NHS since 1948, up to 50 million Americans, even those with jobs, could not afford to go see a doctor.
In simple terms, the quality of your care was related to the size of your bank balance.
If you earned nothing, you got nothing and probably stayed very sick and then died.
Low income households could afford basic healthcare and prescriptions if required, but if you got something serious, like the big C, you were effectively sentenced to death.
Higher income patients enjoyed comprehensive healthcare through their insurers, often provided as a perk of their job.
As for the seriously rich, well, they had access to the finest doctors that money can buy.
That’s all about to change thanks to Obamacare, an audacious plan by President Obama to level the healthcare playing field a touch.
You may have been wondering why this proposal to provide healthcare for all 300 million Americans is so unpopular – I know I have.
Obamacare had a stupendously low level of support before it was boosted by the US Supreme Court’s backing last week.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal it if he wins the White House in November and even now only 48% of voters are thought to approve.
Finding myself struggling to understand this negativity I did a little search online and it soon becomes apparent what these people fear.
An article on the right-wing Charleston Tea Party’s website screams: “New NHS Horror Stories – Your Obamacare Future.”
The piece goes on to spell out how a socialised medicine scheme would do nothing but waste money in bureaucracy while dragging down quality for all.
It says: “Schemes like ObamaCare and the NHS seek to ensure only that no-one gets better care than anyone else.”
The Tea Party’s final gripe is they believe rationing will begin. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” they assert.
This slicing up of resources, they say, will lead to “Death Panels” where unelected bureaucrats will decide who gets the pills and who doesn’t, how many Caesarian section births a hospital can have and so on – the Postcode Lottery we sometimes call it.
With the rhetoric so extreme it’s easy to brush it off these bloggers as right wing loons.
But, I hesitate to admit this, most of the things the Tea Party says about our beloved NHS seem somewhat true.
If you look at it dispassionately, we do suffer from poorer healthcare than the US in many areas.
Our cancer survival rates are some of the worst in the developed world and there is no hiding from the fact that excessive red-tape and an inequitable situation in terms of who gets what seems to have developed as resources become squeezed and drugs ever more expensive.
Our hospitals are like Travelodges compared to the Americans’ Hiltons and our GPs frequently advise us to take a paracetamol or to “get some fresh air” rather than giving us the drugs that would reduce our suffering.
Having suffered with a virus for nearly a month last March I know if I’d have been in the US I would have been made better instantly with a single injection.
In a country where going from rags to riches is much more possible than in the UK if you put in the graft, I now understand their fears about healthcare for all.
But while my jealousy for their superior quality remains, I for one would not feel comfortable with a system that favoured rich over poor.
As I took my inferior medication last winter, knowing that it was doing virtually nothing, I got some comfort at least in the knowledge that it wasn’t going to bankrupt me or my primary care trust.
I was taking one for the team so that people whose illnesses would do far worse than make them achey and sleepy could receive treatment.
I hope Obama can deliver a health service for all that maintains the high standards Americans demand.
And if it works, maybe we can adopt it, just like we have their coffee shops, burger bars and websites.