Thursday, February 18, 2010

Health Insurance Around the World

I don't often wax political here on my blog, unless it's a really important issue, and this is one of the most important issues facing Americans today. Having just gone through an incredible health emergency in my family this past year, I have a new perspective on the whole health insurance thing. My husband is a self-employed artist. I work for a university and have health insurance, which also covers my husband.

As some of you know, my husband was in the hospital in a coma for a month and a half. He left the hospital in very rough shape 2 months after he first entered for a "routine" surgery that went wrong. Without this insurance, we either would have been completely bankrupted and/or my husband would have died for lack of care. (As it was, he almost didn't make it, he was so very ill.)  In a year when many people in my department were laid off, we were one pink slip away from a major financial catastrophe, on top of our major medical catastrophe.

Our medical bills are/were astronomical. The daily bill just for having a bed in the ICU is $20,000. Alex was there for a month and a half, on life support, with 3 surgeries and countless medications. Believe me, it adds up fast. I thanked God every day for my health insurance, and wept to think of the people who struggle through such crises without it.

A friend of mine posted a link to this article in the Washington Post about how health insurance is handled around the world. Reading it might help America to think their way through this issue and find a solution. The premise of the article is that most Americans seem to think in black and white terms about insurance: Many believe that we have to choose between the American system or "Socialism." And that's just not true. This article points out the many variations on the health care theme that exist around the world in straightforward, simple terms. It's very insightful, and I wish that everyone in this country could read it and get more facts, so that they can form an informed opinion on this issue.

Here is the quote from this article that really struck me:
"In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die."
Read that last sentence again. That's right; we're on a par with Third World countries when it comes to aiding the poor. That sentence stopped me in my tracks.

What can we do about it? How do we make our system more humane and more efficient?
Write your representatives.
Read this article and discuss it.
Become a part of the process.
We are world leaders in so many areas; surely we can solve this problem for which so many other countries have found better solutions. This is not a partisan issue. It shouldn't be made into a partisan issue. This is an issue that touches every one of us, and as I've seen first hand, it's a matter of life and death.


  1. Nancy -- as you might remember I lived the same nightmare you lived with your husband (you just had a far happier result - YAY you!!!). As a Canadian I am ever ever so grateful for our health system. I read of so many American widows with similar stories that did lose everything - just breaks my heart.

    I do get my back up when I see some of the "right" people say with loathing they would rather be anything than like us. People not dying in the hallways -- you need help you get it. My mom needed her spleen out about 4 years ago - they had her in so fast she hardly had time for the injections she needed prior to surgery. Its just sad that only the rare "horror" story makes the headline meanwhile there are a few thousand wonderful stories that are never heard about.

    I am so grateful that you were both saved any financial woes during his hospitalization and recovery.

  2. Hi Joanne -

    I do remember your story, and the support you gave us during our terrible time. I wish your story could have had a happier ending. I feel so very fortunate.

    I love hearing stories like the speed with which your Mom was taken care of (instead of waiting to find out if the hospital/surgeon were "participating providers" LOL). Thanks for sharing a GOOD story about health care in Canada!

    I hate the way many Americans misunderstand the Canadian system - I hate the way many Americans misunderstand Canada in general(!) - and I hope that this country can find it in its heart to shed its misconceptions and become more open-minded.

    Thanks for stopping in and sharing your experiences and perceptions. Dialog like this can help educate people and start the wheels of change rolling!


  3. I hope Mr. Reid's book is a best seller.

    You had mentioned your husband's health before, but I wasn't quite sure what had happen. How scary for you and your families, I'm so happy he's on the mend.

    It's all a very sad state of affairs. We have insurance (barely) and I seriously doubt they would pay if we needed it.


  4. What a remarkably rough experience you've had! It's just heartbreaking to hear about what seem like such avoidable tragedies continuing to happen because of this HUGE issue in the US. My father is a now retired professional musician. He got throat cancer and had to have extensive surgeries, etc. We live in Canada and it still had major financial effects on my parents. However, thankfully, our relatively decent health care system did save his life and did prevent my folks from having to deal with the monumental sorts of debt that would have been incurred if we were living just a bit to the South. :(

  5. Well said. I only wish more Americans would look at our situation in such a rational manner.

  6. Here's to continued recovery for your husband ;-)

    Unfortunately, I live in a state so consumed with partisanship that the voice of the people is largely ignored. I hope to stay employed as long as possible to keep my insurance as I am single and in my 50's. Should I have to change jobs, some companies would look askance at insuring me because of my age (even though I have no pre-existing conditions).

    Thanks for the link to the article. I'll be passing it along to all my friends.

  7. @Lynea - It's not right that a hard working family can't feel confident in their insurance coverage. None of us should have to worry about getting the care we need. I hope you never have to test your coverage.

    @Baroness - I'm glad you live in Canada so that your folks didn't have to experience the horrible system we have here. Is your father is doing well now?

    @Linda - Thanks for the good recovery wishes! We are truly blessed. I know what you mean about changing jobs as you get older; I will probably be worrying about that very issue in 5-6 years, myself. Thank you for passing this article on. If enough people start reading, thinking and talking, we can come up with a solution!

  8. And thanks, Sweeter! I'm trying to be a less partisan citizen, trying to concentrate on the real issues instead of the politics; I'm glad that came through. I think the author of the article did an excellent job of that, as well.

  9. Thanks Nancy for posting this! I am lucky to be an American living in the UK--and being well provided for in terms of health care despite being a foreigner. Both of my parents are back in the states. My mom is on disability and it's shocking how much her medications alone cost (she has primary pulminary hypertension and is on oxygen). It angers me so much! I think her medications are in the range of near $10,000 a month. Luckily they have insurance that pays for that through my Dad's work. However, just last week my dad found out he is having problems with his heart. We're not sure how the insurance scenario will play out if my Dad has to quit his job before retirement. The whole system is broken and it's real people that are feeling the effects. Thanks for opening up this discussion!!

  10. Hi Debi - Thanks for joining in! I hope your Dad's insurance doesn't flake out on him when he needs it most. It's amazing the things the insurance companies can do and get away with. I'm glad to hear that the UK system is working for you! So many people think that it's bad there, but my sister-in-law lives there and has had nothing but good experiences. Here's hoping we can fix our system!


Thanks for stopping by for a chat!