After paying £300 for treatment in the US, RICHARD LITTLEJOHN asks: Why should British taxpayers cough up for foreign health tourists?
They used to say that everyone knew exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. That’s certainly true in my case, even though I was only nine.
I was sitting in front of the fire with my grandmother, Nanna Sparke, watching TV. It could have been Z-Cars or Harry Worth, but a look back at the schedules suggests it was Tonight, with Cliff Michelmore.
Programmes were interrupted and replaced by the test card. An announcer said solemnly that the President had been shot. And that was it for an hour or so, until it was time for Doctor Finlay’s Casebook.
The reason I’m telling you this is because by the same token I can remember the precise moment I realised Donald Trump had a fighting chance of becoming the 45th President of the United States.
No, it wasn’t on election night, when news broke that he’d won Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was a week earlier. I was sitting in a doctor’s surgery in Florida, coughing my lungs up.
On the flight to the U.S. to cover the election, I’d managed to contract chronic bronchitis and felt as if I’d swallowed a pineapple whole. Welcome to America, have a nice day.
A television in the waiting room was showing Fox News with the sound turned down. I was reading the Daily Mail on my iPad when cheering erupted among the half dozen or so other patients.
‘Thank God,’ said a sixtysomething woman to my right. ‘Way to go!’ agreed a balding man with a beer gut and a pony tail.
Their excitement had been caused by a breaking news banner on the TV revealing that the latest opinion poll showed Donald Trump had taken the lead over Hillary Clinton in Florida.
Since The Donald couldn’t win without Florida, here was credible evidence that, despite what the professional pundits and pollsters were insisting, he was in with a shout.
Don’t worry, this isn’t another of those interminable columns about the U.S. election. I’m all Trumped out now. The reason I’m telling you this is that my visit to the doctor cost me $80 (£64 at post-Brexit exchange rates).
Long story short — including the horse tranquillisers, painkillers and magic mouthwash — my course of treatment left me with little change out of 300 quid.
Worth every penny, especially if I can claim it back from my travel insurance company, who will probably suck their pencil and find something in the small print which relieves them of liability.
Most likely the statutory excess charge will mean it’s not worth the hassle of filling in the forms; or hanging on the phone pressing 3, before eventually being put through to someone in Bombay, who isn’t called Jason, and couldn’t care less whether you live or die.
Coincidentally, the story I was reading on my iPad was about a proposed crackdown on health tourism. Under the plan, non-EU citizens would be barred from Britain if they owe more than £500 for treatment they have received from the NHS.
If they’re still in the country, they’ll be deported. If they’ve flown home, they won’t be allowed back in. The same rules will apply to their partners. Sounds fair enough.
The NHS is imploding under the weight of a £2 billion deficit burden. Demands for treatment are infinite.
Yesterday, the Government lost an appeal against a ruling that it must spend £20 million a year supplying a drug that would reduce the risk of people who have unsafe sex contracting Aids.
Where’s all the money going to come from? The NHS is always pleading poverty. Yet a recent report from the National Audit Office says that only half the £500 million annual cost of treating foreign patients is ever recovered.
We’re all familiar with the worst abuses, such as that Nigerian woman, Bimbo Avinalaugho — or whatever her name was — who cost us £145,000 when she flew to Britain to give birth to quins.
Some NHS staff simply refuse on principle to ask foreign nationals for payment. They think the health service should be free to everyone, no matter where they come from in the world, and salve their own Leftie consciences with taxpayers’ money.
So it was absolutely predictable that the usual suspects would bitch and moan about these new proposals, condemning them as heartless and, naturally, raaaycist!
But why should foreigners who have never paid a penny into the system expect to receive NHS treatment gratis?
All visitors to our shores should be required to carry medical insurance and produce it when they pass through immigration. If I’d presented myself at a doctor’s surgery in the U.S. demanding free treatment, I’d have been turned away. Quite right, too.
Looking around the waiting room last week, this wasn’t the kind of swanky surgery you see on American TV shows. It was the Floridian equivalent of Doctor Finlay’s practice in Tannochbrae.
My fellow patients were retirees or working people, probably on a basic health plan. Maybe they paid into a private insurance scheme and had seen their premiums soar because of Obamacare — which Trump has promised to scrap.
They’re struggling to pay for their own health provision. They don’t expect to subsidise me, or anyone else from overseas who gets sick on a visit to America.
And if I have to pay hundreds of pounds to get my bronchitis cured in the U.S. — which I’m not complaining about — then why the hell should taxpayers be forced to pick up the bill for foreign nationals who either get ill while they’re in Britain or fly in simply to get free treatment on the NHS?