Here at LDV, #welovetheNHS

One of Obama’s key pledges in the US Presidential elections was major healthcare reforms.  The US is a deeply divided nation on health as in many other policy areas – it is simultaneously home to some of the planet’s best hospitals, the best research in medical advances and the best healthcare practioners – and also home to some of the worst poverty and barriers to healthcare, the worst developed-world child mortality rates.

Without being facetious, almost all of my knowledge of the American healthcare system comes from my knowledge of US TV.  And whilst House has access to an amazing battery of diagnostic tests, and Grey’s Anatomy shows how competitive training programmes for surgery are, Chicago’s ER is full of hobos having their toes cut off with nail clippers after losing them to frostbite in the snow.

46 million Americans are without healthcare insurance, and so have no access to the top-notch hospitals and treatment, resorting instead to the nailclippers at ER.  By no stretch of the imagination are they all tramps.

By trying to address these problems, Obama is picking battles with some very resistant establishments, including highly profitable insurance companies with an essentially closed market. And in doing so, he has stirred up some hornets nests of misinformation claims.

Among these are a number of claims about just how awful the NHS is – as a model of “socialised healthcare” that some Americans want to avoid.  They include the bizarre claim that Stephen Hawking would be dead if he had to suffer with NHS level care – all the more bizarre to anyone who knows that Dr Hawking is not, in fact, American and is very happy with the life saving treatment he receives on the NHS.

The strange claims for UK healthcare have prompted an online campaign on Twitter of people talking about the excellent care they have received and marking their words with the tag #welovetheNHS.

It’s one of the great shibboleths of UK politics. Everyone knows there are still improvements to be made in the NHS, but when some upstart colony starts critising it on the basis of misunderstood facts, we should all leap to its defence.

A few other posts on blogs I have read in the last few days make interesting reading:  on the ObamaLondon blog, LDV’s friend Karin Robinson is doing her bit to debunk some myths.  And Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England provides an historical perspective of the UK’s own battles to introduce “socialised healthcare” in the 1910s:

“If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England.”

Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that “we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past,” and writing feelingly of “these days of highly paid servants”.

The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds.

Some things never change.

Supermajority back on the cards?

Over in the States, the Senate Democrats are currently three members short of 60, a magic number which means they can end filibusters and drive through legislation the Republicans are really unhappy with.

With the elections long over, most have assumed that’s that for the Democrats chances of getting to supermajority. We thought it possible, but unlikely, back last November.

Yet things still seem to be going their way. Firstly there’s an independent member who caucuses with the Democrats: 58. The 59th member is Al Franken, a senatorial candidate for the Democrats in Minnesota who should have won ages ago but is having to fight court battles to hold onto his seat. The latest is that the Minnesotan courts have declared him the winner, but his opponent Norm Coleman still has the right to an appeal and then to appeal further to federal courts. Talk about a sore loser.

But finally this week the 60th Democratic senator emerged in the form of defecting Republican senator Arlen Spector, who has crossed the floor in opposition to just how right-wing the Republicans have become recently. Claiming he is following the trend set by 200,000 Republicans in his home state of Pennsylvania, Spector says his philosophy is now more in line with the Democrats.

As the NY Times reports:

Democrats were jubilant about the development.

President Obama was handed a note from an aide at 10:25 a.m. on Tuesday during his daily economic briefing. The note, according to a senior administration official, said: “Specter is announcing he is changing parties.”

Seven minutes later, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Specter by telephone. In a brief conversation, the president said: “You have my full support,” according to the official who heard the phone call. The president added that we are “thrilled to have you.”

Last time we discussed this on’t Voice, a deal of discussion ensued about the value of strong government. Should the Democrats get the awesome power of a filibuster-proof senate? Or is their greater value in having to work for consensus?