Today in Untrue News: Former Surgeon General Claims U.K. Denies Pacemakers for the Old

As part of a $400,000 media buy, the 60-Plus Association is running an ad with former surgeon general C. Everett Koop’s death panel–esque take on health-care reform. Koop explains that, as a 93-year-old, he’s pretty thankful for his pacemaker replacements and artificial joints—and bets other seniors are too.

“Seniors in this country can get the same care I received but in some places,” Koop warns, “like the United Kingdom, we would be considered too old and the cost to the state too high.”

This, it turns out, is completely false. As discovers, Britain's National Health Service has no blanket restriction on the elderly receiving pacemakers. Instead, “official statistics show 47 patients aged 100 or older got new or replacement pacemakers in a single recent year.” Factcheck also followed up on the other conditions that Koop mentioned—his hip replacements and heart stent—and found neither treatment to be denied to England’s elderly.

I’ve also got to call Koop out on his claim that “Democrats are working on a health-care bill and keeping the discussions and specifics secret.” I also take issue with Obama going back on his promise to broadcast every deliberation on C-Span. But, as someone who has read the entire, 2,074-page Senate bill, I can tell you it is very, incredibly, mind-numbingly specific about how it does and does not impact Medicare, both in expanding and reducing different provisions. You can be angry about the cuts to Medicare that the bill would make—many Republicans are—but I don’t think you can fault the Democrats for a lack of specificity.

On a more macro level, the big contrast that Koop tries to make between health care here and across the pond—they scrimp on health care, we don’t—is just not true. Health-care rationing is alive and well on this side of the Atlantic. As T. R. Reid points out in his excellent book, The Healing of America,

The NHS controls its budget by controlling the range of medications, tests, and procedures it will pay for. This kind of “rationing” takes place in every health-care system; in the United States, such decisions are generally made in private by insurance companies.
Reid goes on to make the larger point that Americans are routinely denied pacemakers, artificial joints, and a whole host of other treatments by virtue of not having the money to pay for it, or their insurance company deciding such treatment is unnecessary. Even Medicare does not cover every medical intervention or treatment. We don't have a nasty government agency to lay blame on but we do have insurers who regularly withhold the treatment that our doctors deem necessary. Perhaps the cruelest rationing is that, in the United States, those who cannot afford insurance simply do not get any treatment at all. Something to consider before taking an ill-researched swipe at the NHS.