As someone who has received health care on both sides of the Atlantic, I feel compelled to weigh in on this all-important subject.
There's something wonderful about being able to go to a doctor or hospital in the UK, knowing you don't have to fill in multiple forms and convince a scary person from a medical insurance company that an operation is absolutely necessary.
It's not exactly free. Employed Brits pay national insurance on top of income tax that covers pensions, health and social security. It's not perfect, but it works.
The relief of receiving medical treatment if and when you need it, and no questions asked, is enormous and, frankly, priceless. I'm not saying the British National Health Service is the best example of universal healthcare, but surely someone in Washington could check out how they do it in France, Canada and Cuba (to name just three) and implement the best bits?
I confess my husband Colin and I don't have health insurance in the United States. A while back, it was because we couldn't afford it. Now we can, but we've decided to pay as we go with the emphasis on prevention. We don't smoke, only drink alcohol in moderation, exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Yes, it's harder to keep the pounds off as you reach middle age; it's a case of eat even less and exercise even more. But we are taking responsibility for our own health and well-being.
We almost came to regret this decision a couple of years back, when Colin needed to go to the emergency room. He was not, as we first thought, having a baby, but a kidney stone.
As I comforted my husband (who was in terrible pain) I couldn't help but worry that the cost of his treatment would probably bankrupt us. We've all heard those heartbreaking stories of bankruptcy brought on by medical expenses. At the very least we'd be paying for it for the rest of our lives, I thought.
Colin was seen by a doctor and given intravenous pain killers. When I asked the doctor if the CAT scan he recommended to confirm his diagnosis was necessary since we didn't have health insurance, he said, "Not really." We took the chance, passed on the scan and Colin passed the stone.
I was already planning how I would argue over the hospital costs, which I feared would be in the thousands of dollars. We were both perspiring as we approached the accounts department. You have to go past it to get out.
The smiling accountant handed me a bill. I have never felt more nervous as I unfolded the piece of paper or more relieved as I saw the figure: $450. American Express? It would cost us $450 a month each to be insured under some payment plans I've been quoted, plus the evil deductible.
A visit to my GP in Los Angeles costs $60 without insurance. I've been twice in six years, with bronchitis. Add another $60 for the antibiotics. There's a lot to be said for paying as you go.
Incidentally, kidney stones can be averted by drinking plenty of water and eating lots of green vegetables. Prevention is key but, of course, accidents happen and even fit people can get cancer. So let's at least give "Obamacare" a chance.
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