I love it when I meet someone who has a strong distaste towards socialized medicine. When I ask this person, “Why do you think socialized medicine is such a bad thing?” their response is always…”Well, my friend has a friend who has a friend who saw on Fox News that it’s really bad.”
“So you have never experienced it yourself firsthand?” I ask.
“Well, no…but…uh…I hear it’s really bad.”
It’s interesting (and shocking) to me that people have such a strong opinion about socialized medicine when 99% (possibly 100%) of those people have never stepped foot in a hospital run by a socialized system. I have. Three times. Yes, I lived to tell about it.
Back in 2001 while backpacking across Europe, I developed a terrible throat infection while visiting Paris, France. I knew I needed to see a doctor. I went to the front desk of my crummy youth hostel and asked the receptionist how to get to the nearest doctor. He said, “Wait here. Someone will be here soon.” I figured he was sending someone to give me directions. About 15 minutes later, a doctor fully equipped with doc gear showed up. What? The doctor has come to me? No waiting room? No office visit? I am an uninsured foreigner and I’m getting VIP treatment? This is unbelievable! Doc checked me out, sent me down the street to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, I paid him twenty bucks, and voila!, I was done! I never stepped foot out of my hostel. In 2008, while back in America, I came down with a flu-like illness. I called my primary doctor. Booked up. He couldn’t see me. I called three out-of -network docs. Booked up. I finally had to drive to a town 20 miles outside of Austin and wait in the waiting room over an hour just to find out I had some funky thing that all-the-medicine-in-the-world couldn’t help. Next time I get sick, I’m going to make sure I’m in Paris.
In 2004, I became pregnant with my first child. My husband is from Germany so we spend a lot of time in Europe. My first trimester was in Prague, The Czech Republic. My second trimester was in America. My third trimester and delivery was in Germany. My first pre-natal visit was in Prague. The doctor’s equipment was so high-tech I felt like I was in a space shuttle. After the ultrasound he asked, “Who would you like your ultrasound images emailed to?” He typed my husband’s email into the ultrasound machine, and seconds later my husband received our little miracle into his inbox. A few months later I had a pre-natal visit in the US. After the ultrasound, I told my doctor to go ahead and email the photos to my husband.
“What?” he asked horribly confused.
“Can’t you email the ultrasound images to my husband?”
“Uh, no” the doc chuckled.
“Well, in Prague they can” I sneered.
I paid $280 for my ultrasound in the US where the equipment looked like something from the 70’s – and I paid $20 for my super-fancy, email-able ultrasound in Prague. Go figure.
When delivery day came around in Germany, I had to have an emergency C-section. I had developed a staph infection and ended up in the hospital for almost three months after my baby was born. I had three surgeries, months of physical therapy and dozens of follow-up doctor visits. Guess how many medical bills I received? Zero. Zilch. Nada. We did not pay one penny out-of-pocket. And I received outstanding care.
A Harvard study was conducted in 2005 which revealed that the #1 cause of bankruptcy in America are medical bills – and 75% of the people who went bankrupt had health insurance at the onset of their illness! Based on my next medical experience in the US, I am not surprised by these statistics.
My family and I pay $850 per month for the “best medical insurance” in town. You would think that by paying such a steep premium that everything would be covered, right? Well, after our second child was born we decided to use an IUD – a form of birth control where, in less then 5 minutes, a doctor inserts a paper clip-looking-thing in the female nether-region. Well, on Christmas Eve we received a bill for $2400 because our insurance “doesn’t cover this procedure since we are self-employed.” The lady at the billing office said if we paid our balance in full (on Christmas Eve must I remind you), she would take 30% off our bill. So, ka-ching, we paid the $1500 balance. Then comes the fun part. In January, we received a 30-day-late delinquent notice for our bill. The insurance company never credited the 30% discount. I called the credit department, they apologized profusely, and promised to credit my account. Then we received a 60-day-late notice in February. I called the credit department yet again and I basically made the woman promise me her next-born child if she did not credit my account. Well, she must not have wanted a kid, because March comes around and..suprise…we received a 90-day late notice. And the nail in the coffin was receiving the letter from the collection agency. Over one year after I stepped into the doctors office to have a “paper clip” inserted into my vajayjay, dozens of phone calls and delinquent notices later, this issue was finally resolved. Bottom line: these situations do not ever happen in countries who have socialized medicine. Citizens of these countries responsibly pay their taxes, and when they need medical care (from a paper clip to prostate cancer) they are 110% covered. No questions. No haggling. No medical bills arriving on Christmas Eve. No collection agencies.
I can’t stop asking myself: If I (a fully insured person) had to pay $2500 out of pocket for a 5-minute birth control procedure, what on God’s green earth are people forced to pay who are dealing with cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions? In the wealthiest country on planet earth, no tax-paying person should ever have to go bankrupt (or skip doctor visits in order to avoid going bankrupt) in order to receive medical care.
So I ask of you this: Before you judge something that you have never personally experienced firsthand, go break your leg in France. Catch the swine flu in Germany. Have a baby in Britain. Then come back and report what you experienced. I can guarantee you will be the next person writing this story.