A Tale Of Two Healthcare Systems

The Article: A Tale Of Two Healthcare Systems by Rosie Spinks in The Speckled Axe.

The Text: I’ve always hated going to the doctor. Something about sitting in those paper-thin gowns with the cold linoleum tile under my feet and harsh fluorescent lighting above my head gives me anxiety. Then there’s the fact that I’m usually at the doctor because something feels or appears wrong with me, which is never comforting.

The worst part by far though is the dreaded transaction that awaits Americans at the end of a visit: the co-pays, the deductibles, and the breath-withholding moments before you find out how much of your prescription is covered by insurance. If I wasn’t already feeling sick before I entered the office, I almost always am after I’ve paid.

My experience with health care changed radically for me recently when, upon moving to London thanks to my dual citizenship, I first received socialized medical care.

My first visit to the doctor in the UK was routine enough—I was making use of one of London’s free sexual health clinics—but the experience was nothing short of astounding for an American like myself. I made the appointment through a simple online form, received a text reminder the day before, and filled out only a single sheet of paperwork upon arrival.

Nevertheless, I dutifully arrived with a copy of my national insurance number, ready to produce it in place of my Blue Cross insurance card that I’d never leave home without in the US. However, no one even asked me for proof that I had the right to receive healthcare. It was then that I first experienced the “novel” concept of socialized healthcare: I didn’t need to have deep pockets or bring shiny insurance cards to receive medical aid; I only needed to bring myself.

Upon discussing birth control options with the doctor, there was no mention of cost, insurance, or generic versus brand name drugs. When she asked me what STIs I wanted to be tested for, I instinctively hesitated. Every American knows that ticking all the boxes when it comes to laboratory tests “just to be safe” is the fastest way to get a lab bill for $1,200 that you can’t afford. “It’s okay,” she said understandingly. “It’s all free.”

My birth control of choice, which would have cost me no less than $50 per month in the US even with insurance, was handed to me at the end of my visit. There was no bill to pay, no pharmacy to visit, and I was simply told to come back when I needed more.

In America, it was a much different story. Unlike many females, I didn’t have to worry about my parents knowing that I used contraception, but I was not particularly keen to tell them about it either. So, I could obtain my $50-per-month birth control from my university’s health center either by paying for it myself (yeah, right) or by hoping that my father wouldn’t notice the ambiguous charges that would appear on my student account each month. Or, like many of my friends chose, I could head to a Planned Parenthood clinic, say that I didn’t have insurance and that I was financially independent from my parents (both lies), and try to convince them to give me my preferred method of expensive, brand name birth control.

With the right’s unrelenting attempts to dismantle that last option and label the “sex crazed co-eds” who seek affordable contraception in university as “sluts”, it’s unclear whether resources like Planned Parenthood will be an option for women like me in the future. The fact that the US is even having a debate over access to contraception and Planned Parenthood—when most other developed and developing nations have long settled the issue—is a good case in point for why the issue of healthcare should be one of human welfare, not politics, ideology or profit.

Economically speaking, a strong case can be made for why nationalized medicine simply makes more sense. Comprising just over 8 percent of the UK’s GDP, the National Healthcare Service (NHS) costs less per capita but is ranked higher (18th) than the US by the World Health Organization (WHO). By comparison, the US spends 16 percent of GDP on healthcare—a figure that’s steadily rising due to ageing baby boomers and public health crises like obesity—and is ranked 37th by the WHO.

As the NHS emerges from a fraught reform process, it’s unsurprising to hear Britons moan about the quality and level of care provided by the NHS and the troubling direction it’s going. Meanwhile, as Obamacare awaits its fate from the Supreme Court in June, it’s common for conservative Americans to cite the dissatisfaction of Britons as a reason why the US should steer clear of socialized health care.

But when I hear complaints from Britons about their own healthcare system, it’s clear that many do not realize what the alternative is. While it’s widely known that nearly 60 million uninsured Americans struggle to receive basic care of any kind, it’s not exactly a walk in the park for those who are insured, either. People like my parents, who for many years were freelancers and thus didn’t receive healthcare from an employer, struggle to meet exorbitant monthly healthcare premiums and prescription costs. Furthermore, had Obamacare not extended the age to which children can remain on their parents’ plan to 26, young and underemployed people like myself would have virtually no hope of finding affordable coverage.

Having now experienced both systems, it’s hard to understand why many Americans are so vehemently opposed to one that wants to provide care for all. No, the NHS is not perfect: you might have to wait a bit longer in line, you might have to take your own blood pressure in the waiting room, you may wait longer for a surgery if there are cases more severe than yours, and the rich will still have it better with the option of private insurance. But the belief that sick people should not die because they can’t afford care is the fundamental basis of such a system.

This couldn’t be further from the “you take care of yours and I’ll take care of mine” ethos in the US. The right presumably believes that socialized healthcare will result in a proliferation of cases like the man who, according to a 2006 report in the Daily Mail, used superglue to affix his rogue tooth because he couldn’t find an NHS dentist. What these critics don’t seem to notice is that this is already happening in their own country, and it’s not because people can’t find a doctor; it’s because they can’t afford one.

While the recently passed and much debated NHS reforms—entitled the Health and Social Care Bill—seem to signal the start of healthcare privatization in the UK, the extent to which their implementation will change access to healthcare for all remains unseen. Some critics fear the worst: that the move toward privatization and for-profit healthcare will irrevocably change the NHS and the celebrated free-healthcare mandate that has existed in the UK since 1948.

Though it may have been impossible for Obama to make the case for universal healthcare to a country of people that have never experienced it before, Britons know of nothing different. And make no mistake, the fundamental belief that humans should not die because they can’t afford healthcare is going to be a hard one for them to forget. Free healthcare is a matter of ethics, not politics. It’s hard to imagine how an ostensibly free country like America has existed this long without it.

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