I’ve Lived Both Sides of the Healthcare System. This Is What I've Learned.
This debate has been furiously argued on both sides for several months, so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. I lived with the British National Health Service (NHS) until I was 26 years old, and then I moved to America. For the last 9 years, I have lived with private healthcare.
Obviously this is just one man’s opinion. You have your own opinion, and that’s cool. That’s what’s great about this country. What is also great is that we can talk openly about this in a public forum, and (hopefully) spark some intelligent debate and questions. So, let me first begin with my experiences from both sides of the pond.
Living With The British NHS
You will hear horror stories about British healthcare, and I will be the first to say the system is not perfect. But it is no archaic nightmare filled with medieval torture devices and untrained doctors. On the whole, my treatment was great.
When I wanted to see a doctor, I saw a doctor. No co-pay. It was the doctor of my choosing, and my family has had the same GP since way before I was born. He was always being retrained on new techniques, and he wasn't overzealous with a prescription pad. When I made an appointment, I was seen within 10 minutes. If I came in without an appointment, the wait could be an hour or more. I never waited longer than 90 minutes, and that was only because I was a walk-in. When I saw my GP, I was never rushed in and out of the consultation room.
I had several small operations in Britain and everything went very smoothly. The wait from diagnosis to treatment was a few weeks. This may not be the case for everyone, but it was for me. Every hospital I ever went to was clean, efficient and, well, full. Yes, I will admit that there are too few hospitals, but that never stopped me getting treatment in a timely manner. When my sister had a baby, she was in a beautiful room which she shared with one other lady. It wasn't a private room, but it wasn't like a M*A*S*H ward either! And it's also worth noting that private insurance is available in Britain as an addition to standard coverage. BUPA is one example. So, if you have the money, you can upgrade to private rooms, jump ahead on a waiting lists, that kind of thing.
Doctors and nurses, in my honest opinion, usually seemed quite happy with their work. However, most doctors in Britain earn a far more modest income than in the U.S. As far as I know, it's not a sticking point, but then again I'm not a doctor. I'm sure some salivate when they see the amazing salaries commanded by many U.S. doctors.
Were there major downsides? Well, taxes were higher to help pay for the NHS. But, there were usually no co-pays, and prescriptions were filled at a standard price (around seven pounds last time I checked). There are definitely limits imposed on people in Britain, too. For instance, you may have to reach a certain age to be entitled to a hip replacement. And as I said, hospitals are sometimes few and far between. My own parents usually have to travel to the next town for some treatments because the hospital within their town is small and has limited services. But I never had to stand in line for a day to see a crummy, overworked doctor. It was not some “Glenn Beck Nightmare” with rusty beds, abandoned wards and filthy patients roaming the hallways of darkened hospitals. I was just fine, healthy, and happy.
My Treatment In The U.S.
Great. I can't deny it at all. I've had plenty of co-pays over the years, but I think that equates (kind of) with paying higher taxes for healthcare in Britain. Here, I pay out of pocket; back there I was paying before I saw my money.
Prices for my medicnes, until this week, were fine. I have always been on a $10/$20 plan for generics and name-brand. That did just change, and now I dread the day when I may have to take a name-brand drug, as I am no longer covered for those.
My waiting times here have been great, too. They were the same as in Britain, with no wait for scheduled appointments and up to an hour for a walk-in. The operations I had went fine, were painless, and came with a small $50 outpatient fee. My wife had two babies here, both births went very well, we had our own private room, and each time our total cost was just $200 (I saw the bill that went to the insurance company...$20,000!).
Overall, when I was privileged enough to have good insurance through an employer, I was fine. But now, that's no longer the case, and I'm just hoping none of us ever get really sick or need major drugs, as we'll see ourselves facing huge bills.
After living with both systems, and seeing very little difference in the actual quality of treatment, I have to say that I am for a public plan. The idea of making a profit healthcare, well it just leaves an incredibly nasty taste in the mouth. Knowing that while some people are being denied coverage for the most puerile reasons, CEOs and shareholders of these companies are earning billions of dollars, it's just plain wrong.
Right now, a friend of our family is facing untold horrors because of the healthcare system. They are millions of dollars in debt because their daughter was diagnosed with cancer and they could not afford the $1200 per month for private family health insurance. They could lose everything, and at the same time still have to support a sick little girl. Is this fair? Not when you know that vast, vast sums of money are wasted in our current system, and that money goes to pad the bank accounts of the wealthy.
It’s an argument I’ve been having with people for years. “What’s wrong with profit, what are you, a socialist?” Not at all. Profit is great and I applaud it. If you want a Ferrari, and you can afford it, by all means go and line the pockets of the Ferrari company. I don’t care. If you want an Omega watch, go get one. I hope Omega makes a fortune. If you buy Starbucks coffee, you are making the Starbucks corporation rich, and I say good for them.
But here’s the thing.
No one needs a Ferrari. No one needs an Omega watch. No one needs a coffee from Starbucks. For that matter, no one needs most things that are available today, from your average family-sized pizza to a luxury home in the Hamptons. They’re all wants.
People NEED healthcare. It's that simple.
They need to live. They need help when they’re sick. They need operations to fix broken legs or arms, or heart transplants, or brain surgery. It’s not like they can say “nah, I’m just not really digging this whole cancer treatment thing, I’ll shop around and see if I can pick up a DIY version at Sam’s Club.”
Now, when you couple a “need” with profit, you get slammed. We all saw it with the massive rise in gas prices not so long ago. How many of you stopped driving completely? It just didn’t happen, because we need gas to get around. So, we paid the price and the oil companies had demolition derbies with Rolls Royces.
Healthcare for profit, that’s even worse in my book. There is all this talk of “death panels” and old people being denied coverage, but these things already exist! There are people employed by health insurance companies to keep costs low and profits high. That’s why this enormous and ever-growing list of pre-existing conditions exists. My doctor once told me he was wary of removing a suspicious mole I had because I may not get future coverage for skin cancer! What kind of madness is this?!
To a health insurance company, it’s a risk and rewards game. They give you coverage, but it’s all conditional. They can deny coverage at will it seems, and they give you lifetime maximums that, because costs keep rising, are now being met, even by children. I recently read a story of a young boy who can no longer receive new prosthetic arms because he’s hit his max. But something tells me the CEOs are still getting big bonuses and rising salaries.
And then there’s the issue of switching jobs. Sometimes, you can’t leave a company even if you want to because you cannot give up the health benefits. It’s called “golden handcuffs” and it can cause real misery.
I had none of the above problems in Britain. Did I have to wait for operations? Yes. But it wasn’t a long wait. In all honesty, my care and service was almost identical to the service I receive here, except it was all paid for out of taxes. I paid more taxes than I do here, but not a lot more. And I can tell you this…no one EVER goes bankrupt in Britain because of medical bills. No one. Not a soul. No one worries about medical bills. It’s not an issue.
You should not fear for your health. You should not be afraid that an illness could lead to bankruptcy. You should not be terrified of the cost of simply staying healthy and alive. And corporations SHOULD NOT profit from healthcare. Because at the end of the day, you and your life will always be less important than the price of their stock.
Now, feel free to mow me down with comments, but consider this. Unlike most people, and most of you, I have lived with both types of healthcare. And I choose the public option. There is nothing to be afraid of. Do the research, forget the hype and fear mongering. In your current healthcare system, over $700 billion is wasted each year in administration costs! You deserve affordable healthcare.
For further reading on the current healthcare debate, check out our sister site, The U.S. Healthcare System: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
- The U.S. Vs. The World On Healthcare Quality
- Solidarity (At High Costs): The French Healthcare System
- Socialized Medicine In Britain: Is It Really That Bad?
- End Of Life Care: The Big Bad Wolf Of Healthcare Reform
- The Underinsured: The Sleeping Giant In The Healthcare Crisis
- Understanding The Healthcare Reform Debate: The Uninsured