My sister Brigid Marlin lives in the UK and a few days ago was watching a BBC program on health care in the United States. Brigid is not a public affairs junkie so I was interested when she sent me an email reporting that the program was a shocking portrayal of the high cost and low coverage of U.S. medical care. This itself is not news but there are two things about the show that are worth an alert: (1) The BBC's effectiveness in describing the problems with U.S. health care, and (2) The fact that Americans can't watch it. My sister says:
The program was produced by BBC's Panorama, the world's oldest television documentary program, begun in 1953.
They were discussing the problems that Obama faces in meeting his promise to provide health care for poor Americans. The program showed an English medical team that set out to provide medical services to poor people overseas. They ended up spending 60 percent of their time helping poor Americans, as they are the most needy! We were shown people getting up at 4 am and driving for hundreds of miles to be early in a huge queue for a doctor's help.
The BBC itself describes the program as follows:
The Panorama team managed to get inside a briefing that a large US insurance company was giving its staff, awarding them huge bonuses for finding loopholes in the clients' policies, so they didn't have to pay up! They boasted that one employee had saved the company $7 million by giving them the basis for refusing to pay out because of a tiny flaw in the way they had filled out the form. This story was contrasted with the company's television ads, where a kindly fatherly figure assures clients that they will be safe and looked after.
My sister's message to me goes on:
Barack Obama takes over as U.S. President with a promise to dramatically change America and make it a fairer place. He is inheriting the worst economic crisis in almost a century, and a country so unequal that 23,000 people die every year because they cannot afford basic healthcare. To close the gap between rich and poor Obama will have to take on the might of the corporate world, which wields enormous influence in Washington. Can he change the world's most powerful country, and should he?
Well, I attempted to watch the program myself and give you a link to it. It was broadcast on BBC One, 8:30 pm, January 19. It's a half-hour show produced by Jeremy Vine. My sister is not the only fan of the show. It is posted as a "pick" by blogger "Up Your Ego: Love Your Inner Geek". The blogger is trying to emulate the "brilliant" Watchification, Telegraph iPlayer Pick of the Day and the Radio Times Downloads index, and says:
The drug companies are just as bad, Panorama shows. They have bumped up their prices so that Americans pay twice as much for their medicines as the same companies charge to other countries. It seems that the drug companies are uncontrollable because they wine and dine the senators so no votes are cast against their policies. The program showed the drug companies supporting senators with money for electioneering and their favourite charities. They are determined not to allow a comprehensive health care system in America!
Unfortunately, when I tried the link in several places, I got a message each time that the link won't work in the United States. So the best anyone can do, so far as I know, is to get a U.S.-formatted DVD sent over or persuade a PBS station to air the program in the United States. The program's e-mail address is: email@example.com. I have written to them asking to be advised if the health care show has been or will be aired here. No answer to my question yet.
My pick is the Panorama special on the USA health care system. I really enjoyed Michael Moore's Sicko but it was a little (ok a lot) one sided. A great piece of entertainment and a good piece of journalism when preaching to the choir BUT lacking slightly in balance. The BBC tries to look at both sides of the story. Watch it HERE.