Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warning to UK over future of NHS: ‘Big Pharma!’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tries Irn-Bru for the first time

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The US representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, hit headlines recently after her visit to Glasgow for the COP26 summit. Known for its controversial subjects, the summit upped the ante when Ms Ocasio-Cortez gave her verdict on the quintessentially Scottish drink, Irn Bru. Having arrived, she said she was desperate to try the orange fizzy drink but hadn’t had time to grab a can of it.

In an Instagram video, she said: “I am trying to get my hands on some!

“So far it’s been non-stop work. Where do I find it?? Do y’all have bodegas here?”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon came to the rescue, tweeting a photo of herself handing a can to the American.

She later tried the drink in a video posted to social media, and said: “Oh my God, love it, love it. This tastes just like the Latino soda Kola Champagne.”

She added: “I was so shocked at having something in Glasgow that tasted like home.

“However Irn-Bru is also very unique on its own. It’s got pizazz. Will bring some cans home to NY for sure!”

While AOC’s focus has very much been on US domestic politics, the Irn Bru stint wasn’t the first time she had involved herself in British discourse.

In 2019, she responded to a video created by the website ‘Joe’ which showed Britons reacting to the cost of various health care procedures in the US.

Members of the public were taken back after being told having a baby delivered could cost as much as $30,000 (£22,000), while simply calling an ambulance out would land you with a $2,500 (£1,800) bill.

Sharing the video to Twitter, she gave the UK an eerie warning over the NHS’ future, and wrote: “To our friends in the UK: please cherish, protect, & continue investing in your healthcare system!

“Once Big Pharma & special interests get their hands on it, it could take generations to regain.

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“Millions of people in the US are fighting to have a system half as good as the NHS.”

Bernie Sanders, a US senator and close ally of Ms Ocasio-Cortez, also shared the video.

He said: “Remember that our outrageous for-profit system is not the norm in other countries.

“We can and we must do better.

“We need Medicare for All now.”

Ms Ocasio-Cortez has regularly taken aim at the US’ private healthcare system.


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In early 2019, she led a grilling of a pharmaceutical CEO over the $2,000 (£1,500) price tag on an HIV-prevention drug which costs less than $10 (£7) in other markets.

Truvada reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent.

At the time, it cost more than $1,780 (£1,326) a month in the US, $8 (£6) in Australia, and $6 (£4) in South Africa.

At a committee hearing, faced with Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day, Ms Ocasio-Cortez demanded that he explain why his company would not lower the price.

She said: “There’s no reason this should be $2,000 a month.

“People are dying because of it and there’s no enforceable reason for it.”

Mr O’Day replied that Truvada is patent-protected in the US unlike the rest of the world.

The patent ended in September 2020, with Gilead giving permission for Israeli company, Teva, to make a competitive drug.

But activists claimed one competitor is not enough to reduce the price significantly.

This summer, in the UK, MPs debated the new Health and Care Bill, with some having expressed concerns that it could lead to privatising the NHS.

However, many, including Mark Dayan and Helen Buckingham writing in a report for the Nuffield Trust in July, said there is nothing in the bill that would “change the NHS from being a publicly funded service, free at the point of use except for existing charges for services like dentistry”.

Today, Britons are still worried about the greater use of private companies by the NHS possibly leading to a decline in standards and a loss of money to NHS hospitals.

According to a poll commissioned by openDemocracy this month, three quarters of UK adults would be “concerned if the proportion of healthcare provided by the NHS using private companies were to increase”.

It comes as the Government’s Health and Care Bill is due to return to the House of Commons for its final vote on November 23, before proceeding to the House of Lords.

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