The International Response to Health Care Reform

BY jbreslow  March 23, 2010 at 2:32 PM EDT

As the health care debate raged in town halls across the United States last summer, a cross-Atlantic debate also emerged, with some conservatives criticizing government-run health care in Britain and holding it up as an example of everything they hoped American health care would not become.

As the NewsHour reported in August, the heated debate in America drew leaders across the United Kingdom, including Conservative leader David Cameron, whose party is leading in most polls ahead of an anticipated May election, to the defense of Britain’s National Health Service.

Watch the NewsHour report:

So what are Britons saying about the newly-passed U.S. health reform? In the aftermath of Sunday’s historic House vote, the British press is measuring the political and economic implications of the legislation. Here’s a sampling:

According to The Independent: “The bill is of vast symbolic importance for a country which had been trying to enshrine the principle of universal health care coverage in law for almost half a century. But this symbolic magnitude is more than matched by the substance of the bill, which will extend insurance coverage to 32 million presently uncovered Americans and ban discrimination by insurance companies against those with pre-existing medical conditions.”

“Obama’s healthcare package is a catastrophe for the American people because all it will deliver is huge tax bills and a sub-standard service,” says The Telegraph’s Toby Harnden. “Ask the relatives of the 1200 patients who died at Stafford Hospital what they think of the [National Health Service.]“

The bill has revealed “the comparatively new spectacle of a Democratic president who can get things done,” according to The Guardian. “Not a Jimmy Carter, who failed, or a Bill Clinton, who dodged and wove his way through office, but a Barack Obama, who can straightforwardly claim to have delivered the major promise of his manifesto. Not many leaders can claim that after one year in office.”

“The passage of the health reform bill has reversed perceptions of President Barack Obama’s weakness,” says Jonathan Power in the British magazine Prospect. “He is now master of his own house and can perhaps out-achieve Lyndon Johnson’s and even Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda of domestic reforms …Above all, it should give him the muscle to push the Israelis to deal productively with the Palestinians. This is a Sisyphean task that has defeated all his predecessors.”

“The Congressional approval of healthcare reform has reinvigorated the Obama presidency in a way that has implications not just for Americans, but for the world,” writes Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times. “… Foreign leaders who have written off Mr Obama’s chances of succeeding on the big international issues – Afghanistan, the Middle East, climate change, Iran – will now have to consider the possibility that the president’s persistence might ultimately deliver success.”

Of course, international coverage of health care reform extends beyond the United Kingdom.

Germany’s Der Spiegel draws the opposite conclusion of the FT’s Rachman, saying: Health care reform “is the most important reform America has seen in decades. But what is good for the US may not be a positive for the president himself — nor for the rest of the world … Every other issue has become a sideshow, particularly those outside the borders of America. The Afghanistan mission: of marginal interest. Protecting the environment: postponed. Peace in the Middle East: off in the distance. Sanctions against Iran: delayed. Europe: not even worth a trip.”

The problem with health care reform, according to The Australian, is its cost: “If you think this is about ideology, ask yourself how Australians would respond in a situation where we were looking at a deficit of 10 per cent of GNP and a Whitlam-style government came in promising vast new social programs. We might like the social programs but we’d worry about the cost.”

The gulf the health care debate has widened between both parties proves that, “For better or worse, the U.S. is now becoming more of a Parliamentary government like ours,” according to the Canadian news-weekly Macleans. “Well, if they’re going to have Canadian-style Socialized Medicine they might as well have Canadian-style government.”

The Moscow Times says there is a take away from the health care debate for Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev: “He needs to ignite a Russian Tea Party movement of sorts and press for a progressive agenda. A genuine grassroots movement has to coalesce around Medvedev’s ideas before making a decision on the best vehicle to project its agenda into electoral politics.”

In the English edition of France’s Le Monde, Steven Hill blogs that the health care debate has only magnified the flaws of the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule: “Very few national legislatures require a supermajority to pass legislation … Not only should Obama and congressional Democrats invoke reconciliation, they should retire the anti-majoritarian filibuster to the dustbin of history.”