Monday, August 17, 2009

Our System vs. Theirs, Or You're Bitching About Waiting In Line? Seriously?

A friend referred me to this article which originally appeared in the Guardian. Ex-pat American Bee Lavender spent a large part of her childhood very ill, in and out of hospitals, being poked and prodded and tested to determine what her life-threatening illness was. She writes in shocking detail of the financial difficulties her sickness caused her parents (both of whom had health insurance through their places of employment), and her unique understanding, even as a child, that she was responsible for driving her family to the brink of bankruptcy more than once.

As a now-healthy adult, Lavender eventually relocated to the UK to escape the worry over her future health care and the fear of being denied later coverage and treatments based on illnesses she'd suffered 20 years earlier. She speaks honestly about her experiences with NHS (not perfect, just better).

This is the first perspective I've seen published of an American who has experience with both the United States and the United Kingdom health care plans. What I have seen a lot of are malcontented Brits, bitching because they had to wait on waiting lists to get surgeries for things like knee or hip replacements, surgeries deemed "elective" or non-life-threatening. Many of them later had their procedures, for which they paid nothing, but, for them, like Tom Petty, the waiting seemed to be the hardest part.

As I read Ms. Lavender's account of her experiences with our health system and theirs, it suddenly occurred to me what such whinging was akin to. Brits simpering to us that they have to wait in line to get free health care is like Americans whining to starving North Africans that they shouldn't want our system of food distribution and abundance because we have to wait in long lines at Albertsons.

Unless you've lived for years in this country with no health insurance, struggling to figure out how you're going to get your annual check-ups (because you're at that age for breast/uterine/colon cancer), or how you're going to find a way to pay for your daughter's referral to an out-of-plan specialist, because none of the physicians in the HMO can figure out what's wrong with her, then you need to sit on a broomstick and spin. You don't know what you're talking about. You had to wait four months to get that knee replacement? Really? And how much did it cost you once you'd had it?

I only ask because here in the US, of the 1.5 million families who will declare bankruptcy this year, around 750,000 to 800,000 will do it because of out-sized, impossible medical bills. In 2001, that number would have been below a half-million (still too high). How many people in the UK will be declaring bankruptcy due to medical bills? Look it up in a search engine. You can't find it. I can only assume that means that the number of medical-bill-induced bankruptcies is either zero, or close to it.

So my new rule is that whiny-ass Brits who've never lived in the US and had to fight to get insurance to cover standard, basic procedures, who've never thought twice of taking their children to the emergency room after a fall because you can't help but consider how you're going to come up with the cash to pay for it, who've never had to choose between a treatment or diagnostic test and house payments or groceries, have to just sit down and shut up. They aren't smart enough or informed enough to weigh in on this tender topic. Besides, they need to rest up for all those long lines they have to wait in to get their government-provided medical care, poor dears.


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