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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Father Dwight Longenecker | author
Apr 09, 2017
Filed under Columns

National health care: All our babies were free!

I lived in England for 25 years and enjoyed the benefits of the Brits’ famous National Health Service.

Father Dwight Longenecker

My first encounter was as a student at Oxford. I went to the dentist and was surprised that my filling didn’t cost a tuppence. All four of my children were born in National Health Service hospitals. Three of the four needed intensive care after birth. Post-natal care included home visits from the health visitor. As the kids grew up, there was never a doctor bill, no worries about health insurance when we were unemployed, no dentist bills for the children, and even free orthodontics.

How did such a seemingly wonderful system come about? In the years after World War II, the socialist government of Great Britain established a health care system that promised to be “comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery.”

Who runs it? The government. How is it paid for? Taxation covers 98.89%. How does the tax work? It’s simple. Everyone has deducted from their income a “National Insurance Contribution.” Think of it like this: Instead of paying insurance premiums, you pay more taxes. How much more? In 2008-2009, the number crunchers reckon (if the load were spread evenly) it cost about $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.K.

I have to be honest. From a personal point of view, the National Health Service was terrific. We were young, healthy and poor. We only needed health care once in a while, and because we were low-income, our National Insurance contributions were small. The simple fact is, because of the National Health Service, we could afford to have children because the maternity care and family health care was simple, good and free. In that sense, the NHS was pro-life.

Today National Health Service horror stories about waiting lists, filthy hospitals, incompetence and malpractice abound. The NHS might be pro-life for those who are having babies, but it is also the country’s largest abortion provider, and these abortions are unseen because they occur in the system as ordinary treatment.

The problems of such a huge outfit are immense. As medical technology increases, costs skyrocket. An aging population puts huge strains on the system. Hospitals are crowded, outdated and poorly managed. In 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a study asserting that the U.K. had one of the worst health care systems and that people were dying needlessly due to lack of investment. And like any public bureaucracy there are huge levels of waste, over-employment, inefficiency, graft, corruption and greed. Executives are paid exorbitant amounts while those doing the actual health care just get by.

Despite all of this, my experience is that the general care is good. When my sister, who was a resident in England, was diagnosed with cancer she received world-class care within the National Health System. My elderly in-laws have received excellent treatments for cancer, respiratory problems, joint replacement and heart-lung difficulties.

Our experience of the American health-care system has not been wonderful. We’ve found it to be expensive, the paperwork to be daunting, the waiting lists to be long and much of the care to be superficial, impersonal and mediocre. The problems of big government in the U.K. are mirrored by the problems of big business in the USA. When you throw in the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, I would argue that the same problems choking the British system also abound in America.

Is there an answer? The Catholic Church offers a big-picture solution with her two basic principles of social teaching: solidarity and subsidiarity. First, we are our brother’s keeper. The whole idea of insurance is that we help pay for our neighbor’s catastrophe — knowing that it might be our turn next. The principle of subsidiarity means problems should be solved and initiatives taken at the most local level possible.

I personally wish we had a universal, free and comprehensive health care system in the USA, but one that is administered on a state or county level. What if we had health care districts as local as our school districts? What if the officials were elected locally? What if they had power to raise and administer a health insurance tax? What if the elderly, the young and the poor were covered free of charge?

We do this with public schools. Why not do it for hospitals and doctor’s offices? It would not solve all the problems, but it could be an economical, common-sense and compassionate start.

FATHER DWIGHT LONGENECKER is a graduate of Oxford University and the author of 16 books. He was ordained an Anglican priest before converting to Catholicism. Learn more:


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