Review - Health Care Reform and Globalisation: The US, China and Europe in Comparative Perspective
by David Lane
Wed 31st Oct 2012
Health care provision has not traditionally been an industry which has generated much profit for shareholders as the state has been a major provider of services. Increasing longevity, growing health needs, the introduction and commercialisation of high technology treatments and drugs have made health-care a major industry. The economic turn to neo-liberalism has led to health care becoming a major source of income. The articles in this collection expose the ways in which neo-liberalism undermines the comprehensive delivery of health services and address the ways in which the more equal provision of welfare states is being eroded by interests promoting the market and profit. The collection of articles is timely as it focuses on the global nature of developments which are taking place.
Wendell Potter’s article on the
A recurring issue is to explain the relationship between government and business and other vested interests in nominal democracies having an elected executive and representative law-makers. Potter emphasises the corrupting manipulation of the mass media. He bemoans the decline of a credible news service that might provide information on the basis of which the public might reach better informed decisions. One might question, however, whether more adequate news reporting in the
Allyson Pollock and David Price consider the ways in which the shift in the English National Health Service has opened up services to privatisation and the market and how it has led to the loss of data on the basis of which geographically based services might be organised. The authors show quite convincingly that a market based system vitiates the comprehensive provision of services on which the NHS was based.
In a comparison of recent changes in Russian and American health care provision, Michele Rivkin Fish turns to the ‘moral economies’ of health care. She is concerned to draw out the unspoken moral assumptions that inform ideas of the relative worth of patients, and hence ideas concerning differential entitlement to care. This is a novel and useful approach to the analysis of health care change. The differential pricing of the public and private sectors leads to the underpayment of health workers in the public sector which in turn contributes to poorer service and (in the USA) to the training of health workers by specialist sectors which can pay higher fees rather than to general practice where need is greatest.
Mei Zhan’s account of relations between health professionals and patients in
Meri Koivusalo in a timely and well argued chapter addresses the importance of the European Union in channelling health care of the member states along lines of marketisation and commercialisation. The ambiguities and contradictions in EU ideology are clearly put in focus. Whereas many conceive of the EU as an institution promoting social rights and the social charter, the reality of policy is increasingly driven by promotion of freedom of people movement and the internal market. European - wide markets supposedly function to improve efficiency and choice. The chapter traces the shift from European welfare states promoting health care to the EU policy which bases health services on ‘health for wealth’ and ‘health for growth’.
What was traditionally considered a ‘health service’ now promotes health care provision as part of the services sector generating profit and wealth. This shift in policy is a consequence of EU policy of the free market. An important theme here, which is also raised by other contributors, is that the major political parties only marginally challenge these developments – though nationalist and populist parties have made serious critiques.
While Poland is one of the most successful of the post-socialist countries, Peggy Watson sees adverse developments in the provision of health care as one aspect of ‘catastrophic citizenship’ – by which she means the widespread loss of social rights that is part of class formation in Poland. She points out that in 2009 the male mortality gap between
She returns to a familiar theme of the volume: marketisation and privatisation privilege the rich and penalise the poor. She argues that the pervasive ideology of ‘becoming modern’ and achieving a Western type of electoral democracy erase from the public. She also shows how the public is disenfranchised as a result of the shadowy informal relationships between business and government, citing the example of pharmaceutical lobbying. Governments secure social acquiescence for marketisation policies: they deliver a ‘discourse of disguise’ which occludes the harmful effects of marketisation and privatisation portrayed as freedom of choice achieved through economic efficiency.
In a concluding chapter Howard Waitzkin and Rebecca Jasso-Aguilar shift the focus to consider alternatives to neo-liberalism based on the experience of
Rather than ‘globalisation’, which in their view ‘mystifies’ the adverse effects of neo-liberalism, they address developments in terms of the ways in which imperialism and empire exploit dependent nations. International organisations, such as the WHO, IMF and World Bank, contend, act to privatise and commodify health services – enhancing the profitability of international corporations. With examples of resistance in
This is a valuable and well-chosen collection of articles which illustrates the global nature of developments in health care. It is one of the very few books to encompass health care change in post-socialist societies, and to address the neoliberalising health changes from a critical standpoint. Yet how one breaks out of the vicious circle of privatisation and commercialisation, legitimated in terms of modernisation and democratisation, is not adequately addressed in the book. Democracy can be manipulated, people can be deceived. The contributors highlight how the major political parties align with the dominant capitalist commercial interests. State socialism, though widely criticised, is portrayed as seen with nostalgia in many of the contributions. Possibly there could have been more discussion of the problems given by the ageing of the population and the costs of health care and how to contain them. But the chapters clearly indicate a deficit in electoral democracy; the mantle of the virtues of health as a public good appears to have been taken up by populist and nationalist parties.
Peggy Watson (Ed.), Health Care Reform and Globalisation: The