It will be interesting to see what happens to ‘Obamacare’ in the US, recently upheld by court order, and the closest US citizens have come to the universal state funded health care common in other western nations.
Here in New Zealand, we have had universal state-funded health care since 1938. It was part of a package of social welfare initiatives introduced that year by the Labour government of Michael Joseph Savage. There was a storm of protest from opposition parties; but the morality, as far as Savage and his cabinet were concerned, was clear. He summed it up in two words during parliamentary debate – ‘applied Christianity’
The 1938 Social Security Act offered support for those dispossessed through no fault of their own. It joined an effort to house people and public works schemes that provided employment and infrastructure for a nation.
This was not to create lifestyle choices for the lazy. The problem, back then, was that New Zealand had been prostrated by war, depression and penury; and for a people whose morale had been pulverised by a generation of misfortune, the new face of government in the form of Savage – kind, avuncular, caring – was a gift from heaven. Savage and his cabinet were not going to let the people suffer when government had the means to help them get back on their feet. He was determined to get his 1938 welfare legislation through, even deferring life-saving surgery for himself that year to make sure it happened. There were reasons why Savage’s portrait hung on the wall in many households alongside that of Christ. When Savage died in early 1940, the nation went into mourning.
New Zealand has had universal public health care – tweaked and re-jigged, but broadly there – ever since. The only serious effort to dislodge it came in 1992 when the Finance Minister of the day issued what she called the ‘Mother of all Budgets’. Among its provisions was a charge against patients for use of public hospitals. This was presented as ‘partial cost recovery’, which did nothing to allay the popular impression of a punitive state skewering sick people a second time if they used the service they had already paid for via tax.
The lesson was clear. To New Zealanders, universal health-care was a right. Thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012