If Britons didn’t already hate Donald Trump enough, he has said something perfectly designed to enrage the British public, like if an American politician said that dogs are bullshit or that football is a stupid sport.
At a press conference in London today, asked about the prospect of including the British National Health Service in post-Brexit trade negotiations with the UK, Trump said that “everything is on the table,” adding: “So NHS or anything else. A lot more than that.” Articulate as ever.
The Financial Times reports that this could mean the “NHS having to pay higher prices for drugs made by American companies.” The NHS is currently able to negotiate much lower prices than Medicare, for example, which... isn’t allowed to negotiate at all, actually. It would also likely mean selling off parts of the NHS to American companies.
The threat of profiteering U.S. health firms getting their filthy hands on the already-battered NHS is nothing new. Pro-NHS campaigners have long warned about the influence of American health firms in the UK health system, but particularly since Theresa May refused to rule out offering contracts to American firms last year. In 2016, the Guardian reported that the Hospital Corporation of America had contracts with the NHS for facilities that only served private patients, and that HCA was “part of the Private Hospitals Alliance, a lobbying group that supports the role of private company participation in NHS services.”
Optum, part of United Health Group, has won contracts to manage health services in some areas, and in 2015, Optum’s management of IT services in the NHS was blamed for delays of up to a month for patients’ referrals to specialists. The CEO of the NHS, Simon Stevens, previously worked in several executive roles at United Health. And the revolving door swung both ways: A former health advisor to former Prime Minister and alleged pig botherer David Cameron left the party to go and work for Optum.
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In response to the news, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would “fight with every last breath of our body to defend the principle of a healthcare system free at the point of need for everybody as a human right.” Even members of May’s own Conservative Party claimed similar sentiments, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who presided over privatization of many parts of the NHS, saying he “can’t conceive of any future prime minister, for any party, ever agreeing that we would allow NHS procurement to be part of trade talks.” And Conservative health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that it will “never” be on the table, though I do not believe him, because he is Tory scum.
The idea of selling off the NHS to American companies is political poison in the UK. The right-wing project of damaging and dismantling the NHS has purposefully been done over the space of years; the Tories would love nothing more than to destroy the NHS, but it is politically impossible to do that overnight.
This should tell you something about how completely and utterly warped the politics of healthcare are in the United States. The idea of American profiteers taking over the NHS is so terrifying that the idea of British healthcare looking more like American healthcare makes British blood run cold. What is considered completely impossible in America is miles far to the right of what other countries do. This is only because insurance companies, hospital companies, drug companies, and others who currently profit off the disordered and broken American health system are so powerful.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If only America could see how different it could be.