I Was Treated to a Foreign First World Public Health Care System

08/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last Friday I learned what it was like to be part of a civilized, first world health system.

I was in England, staying at my godmother's house, when I got slammed by one of my chronic migraines. When I get migraines I usually resign myself to a dark room, take my medication and wait for the nauseating pain and blurry vision in my left eye to dissipate.

As I rummaged around my suitcase to find my salvation, high doses of Trexamet and Naprosyn, I discovered that I had forgot to pack them in my rush to the airport. Not having my medication doesn't mean enduring one bad headache. It means enduring about three days of completely crippling head pain. Instead of panicking over my fate, I picked up the phone and called my doctor in NY. I thought she'd be able to call in a prescription. No dice. She actually didn't even call me back. Plus, as my godmother reminded me, she wouldn't be able to call in a prescription because she's not part of the British health system.

So I resigned myself back to my dark room, put a cloth over my head and tried to do what my mother always tells me: "go to another place." Well, my godmother came upstairs shortly afterward and suggested that she could take me to that other place... a National Health office.
Since I thought getting an appointment there would require a referral, at least a day's wait and an exorbitant amount of money, I told her not to bother. She called anyways, got me an appointment for the next hour and we were off to the neighborhood clinic.

It was amazing. I filled out paperwork with my New York address, waited five minutes, met with the doctor, got a prescription, walked downstairs to the pharmacy under the clinic and was back at my godmother's house an hour later. Believe it or not, I didn't have to pay a cent for the visit. I did, however, pay a "private" prescription price for the medication that added up to about $30 dollars.

I'm not denying that there are problems with the British system. My problem wasn't life threatening, but it was temporarily crippling. For people with deadly diseases like cancer there are documented frustrations over access to certain treatment. My great-uncle actually got sent home from a British hospital because there weren't enough beds that day. He was scheduled for open heart surgery... an operation he endured the following week.

There will always be problems in a system that takes care of millions, but that shouldn't preclude us from not giving millions their rights to proper health care. What Obama said about energy applies to health care: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." From my experience the British system was good. It was also good to my great-uncle. Even though he was sent home, he was treated. His immediate family didn't have to haggle with insurers or cut costs. His country took care of him. America should be able to do the same.