Last week’s “Man Vs. Mutt” article in the Wall Street Journal’s weekend section traded on a concept that’s been dominating the news and––albeit obliquely––Dolittler’s headlines, too. Yes, we’re talking healthcare reform again. At the risk of bashing this concept into submission, I’ll admit that “I’m on a roll”––or is it merely a barely opaque display of my obsessive tendencies? 

Either way, it’s clear this topic is on the minds of many Americans as we struggle with the idea of taking our healthcare system to the next level. What, we wonder, is it going to take to make our medical care more accessible to the masses, to keep our public hospitals in the black, to support the solvency of a system teetering on the brink of collapse under the weight of staggering and still-rising costs? 

We can pick on big pharma, condemn the insurance industry and badmouth the lawyers but are their profiteering ways truly what ail us? Or are their methods a mere symptom of a larger ill? 

I don’t have the answers. But “Man Vs. Mutt” claims UK veterinarians might. The British veterinary system’s way with pets is undeniably more alluring than the UK’s human health version, author Theodore Darymple argues in his pithy WSJ piece:

"The conditions in which you receive your treatment are much more pleasant than British humans have to endure. For one thing, there is no bureaucracy to be negotiated with the skill of a white-water canoeist; above all, the atmosphere is different. There is no tension, no feeling that one more patient will bring the whole system to the point of collapse, and all the staff go off with nervous breakdowns. In the waiting rooms, a perfect calm reigns; the patients’ relatives are not on the verge of hysteria, and do not suspect that the system is cheating their loved one, for economic reasons, of the treatment which he needs. The relatives are united by their concern for the welfare of each other’s loved one. They are not terrified that someone is getting more out of the system than they."

Short wait times, pay as you go, happy vets, a healthy pet insurance industry a competitive system of distribution. And if you’re very poor or really don’t want to pay for the good stuff you can always go for the bottom-of-the-barrel, bare-bones kind of care offered by the UK’s version of the ASPCA––for free. 

The way it goes in the UK sounds great for pets. I won’t deny it. But compared to what the bulk of the US citizenry gets, for themselves or their pets, the UK’s human health approach doesn’t seem half bad, either. Yet Darymple bashes the UK’s needs-based system of human healthcare delivery with the blunt side of their veterinary version. As if animals have it soooo much better. Which they don’t. 

Poor pets in the UK have no access to any kind of advanced care. Bones may be set but you can forget about care for major trauma or chemo for cancer. It’s a haves and have nots dilemma with far greater disparities than the human system faces. Its saving grace? We can euthanize pets to control costs. And we can use it for glib comparison whenever we want to call attention to how crappy the humans have it. 

Darymple does make some fine points, though––or perhaps that’s what I’d like to read into what he’s set forth: Veterinarians know how to run a good competitive system. We’re well-educated. We control costs well. We know how to treat a client. And we care. 

Thanks for the pat on the back, Mr. Darymple. But don’t tell me we’ve got it all sussed out. Because I don’t know my way out of this morass any more than I know what to do with the six stray kittens sitting in my hospital. And I doubt it's that much better in the grand UK.