Ouch! Britain Gives Its Health Care Sector a Shot of Austerity

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Britain's famous socialized health care sector is about to feel more than a pinch; it's about to receive some major reconstructive surgery:

Practical details of the plan are still sketchy. But its aim is clear: to shift control of England's $160 billion annual health budget from a centralized bureaucracy to doctors at the local level. Under the plan, $100 billion to $125 billion a year would be meted out to general practitioners, who would use the money to buy services from hospitals and other health care providers.

Aiming to reduce administrative costs by 45%, the plan would kill tens of thousands of jobs and move one of the world's most notable centralized health care systems toward privatization and local control. Details are still sketchy, but the white paper outlining the plan is here.

Some folks are particularly confused about the decision to make GP's the quarterbacks of the health industry:

"It's like getting your waiter to manage a restaurant," Mr. Furness said. "The government is saying that G.P.'s know what the patient wants, just the way a waiter knows what you want to eat. But a waiter isn't necessarily any good at ordering stock, managing the premises, talking to the chef -- why would they be? They're waiters."

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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