Health of the State

Article excerpt

If I were a decent American conservative, rather than a psoriatic Scotch-Irish Catholic depressive, I would probably not take great pleasure in reading what British writers had to say about American habits and customs. All the same, I am about to gatecrash the Great Obama Healthcare Debate, not least because I have recently survived surgery at a National Health Service hospital and may have some insights to share.

First, a bit of background. On the evening of Dec. 2, 1992, I was in the ballroom of the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. at the 25th anniversary dinner of the American Spectator, when all of a sudden my heart started to race and I began to pour with sweat.

Somehow I made it to the lobby, where I collapsed. A pretty girl from reception cradled my head in her lap and loosened my tie. Next thing I knew, two paramedics were strapping me to a stretcher and jogging me to an ambulance.

As we sped through the gleaming Washington night, one of the men, a Hispanic with a thick accent, asked me several times for my social security number. "Hey, Jose," said his companion after a while, "leave the guy alone. Can't you see he's an alien?"

They took me to George Washington Hospital. It was ER heaven. I was tested for every disease known to man and discharged at about 3 o'clock in the morning with a clean bill of health. (On the diagnosis sheet, they wrote that I had "fainted.")

At the hospital checkout, I asked the big woman in charge whether they sold cigarettes. "No, sir, we do not," she said. I sensed she was not going to be easy to charm. "That will be $1,082.49, sir," she said. I smiled. "Oh, that. I'll let you have my insurance details later."

"No, sir. We need a credit card now,"

"Look," I said, "a couple of years ago my boy was treated for a concussion in Albuquerque, at a rather better appointed hospital than this, and there was absolutely no question of my handing over money for the treatment. They took my insurance details and settled the bill with the insurance company."

"Sure, sir," she said. "That was Albuquerque. This is Washington. Here you pay." I knew when I was beaten, and handed over my plastic.

The treatment I received was worth every penny, and fortunately I had a million quid's worth of cover back at the Howard Johnson. The American healthcare system works, and works well, but not for everyone. …