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On which side of the pond is the grass greener?
August 2013
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author

A funny thing happened to Lloyd Dunlap, one of our contributing editors, this month as he worked on "U.K.'s Department of Health launches DNA mapping effort," a story you can read in our 'Omics & Systems Biology section on page 24. Lloyd's story reports that the United Kingdom's Department of Health has launched an effort called Genomics England that aims to achieve a better understanding of cancer, rare and infectious diseases. To Lloyd's surprise, one thing he learned in the course of reporting the story was that the launch of Genomics England comes at the same time that some British government leaders are facing backlash over their attempts to privatize the National Health Service (NHS)—you know, the U.K.'s globally admired public healthcare system that provides a comprehensive range of health services to residents for free (well, sort of; until you count the taxes that make the whole thing possible, anyway).
Is Jolly Old England changing its tune when it comes to its publicly funded healthcare system—the largest and the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world, which has provided the majority of primary care, in-patient care, long-term healthcare, ophthalmology and dentistry in England for six decades? It seems so, as a recent investigation by the British media news organization The Guardian found that "at least a dozen NHS hospital trusts are technically bankrupt, with no chance of meeting a legal obligation to balance their books." The root of the problem seems to be multifaceted, with healthcare reform, epidemics like obesity and diabetes and rising equipment costs all being cited as contributing to the problem.  
"Privatization of the NHS is but ONE of the necessary steps that next government will have to undertake to bring public spending under control, as the consequences of not doing so will be for a decade or more of economic depression under a continually escalating debt mountain that the country will increasingly find painful to service in terms of interest payments," argues The Market Oracle, a website that provides financial-market forecasting and analysis.  
As Lloyd and I pondered this strange news, he reminded me, "As the U.K. is contemplating privatizing the NHS, we're moving toward a national healthcare system." "As my grandfather used to say, 'Everything goes in sickles,'" Lloyd joked.  
Ah, yes, how could I forget? Every major news organization in the country has been running headlines about the looming enrollment period for the so-called Obamacare healthcare exchanges, set to open Oct 1. Heard above the very loud din from every corner of the political arena have been claims from state officials that these exchanges will send health insurance costs soaring. Here in Ohio, where DDNEWS is headquartered, state officials have been predicting that the average cost of health insurance will increase by 41 percent for state residents. Not so, some experts were quick to counter.  
"These are sticker prices, and very few people will pay these prices," Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Columbus Dispatch. "Many will qualify for subsidies. For consumers, all you can do is walk away from this confused. Averages are pretty much meaningless."
It can be hard to find meaning in anything so hotly debated. Both the U.K. and the United States have healthcare systems in place that don't seem to be working. It all makes me wonder: On which side of the pond is the grass greener?
How does one even go about answering such a question, when you're pummeled by statistics gathered to prove any point, confronted with blatant misinformation and distracted by anecdotal evidence? Like our bi-monthly columnist, Peter T. Kissinger argues below, "Facts don't matter … until they do." The question here is, whose version of the facts do we believe?   It would be nice to have some facts on public versus private healthcare. Unfortunately, the only fact I have in my possession related to this column is the fact that my own grass needs some TLC after a typically wacky (intermittent periods of hot/dry and cool/wet) Cleveland summer season.  
But how about those Brits? And speaking of them, did you hear their royal family got a new addition last month with the birth of George Alexander Louis? Our managing editor, Jeff Bouley, dared me to mention that in my column. This was the most creative way I could find to do that. Hey, every other news organization in the world mentioned it. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I guess some people would say the same thing about the United States' attempt to create a healthcare system similar to what the U.K. has. Then again, maybe they wouldn't.  



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