universal healthcare

A few weeks ago I underwent a (scheduled) procedure to treat a heart condition that kept me in hospital for two nights: the night before the procedure (so as to have a final test done the evening before) and the night after the procedure (so as to keep me under observation for a few hours). The morning after the procedure everything looked good, so I was dismissed from the hospital and sent home for recovery.

Unfortunately, that same evening I had to rush to the ER due to severe chest pain and upon arrival at the hospital I was immediately admitted into the ICU, where I stayed for three full days. After another day in a room in the cardiology ward I was dismissed from the hospital and sent home for recovery -again.

As can only be expected, there was quite a bit of paperwork along the process: before the procedure, during (yes, I signed a document as I was entering the OR) and after the procedure (as I was being dismissed). Bills? Nah, not a single one. Not before, not during, not after. None. Zero. Zilch.

How about co-payments? Nope. Deductibles? Again, no. Nothing. In case you are wondering, all this took place in the old continent, in Europe, where (for the most part) we seem to enjoy the wonders of universal healthcare. Oh, I know what you must be thinking: Something’s gotta give. If you don’t pay the bills then your health plan must be very expensive. Sorry, but again, no.

My (individual) health plan costs 48.22 EUR a month (roughly 57 USD) -which are deducted from my paycheck. And I have to pay for 30% of the cost of the medicines prescribed when not treated in a hospital (those are also included). Which means that, for example, the 3-month drug plan that I will have to follow after my procedure will amount to a grand total of about 20 USD. Yes, for 3 months. Definitely will not break the bank.

How is this even possible? Well, it is because every single citizen here is part of that universal healthcare system: we all contribute, directly, via a monthly deduction out of our paychecks and indirectly, via our taxes. That way, when we need to use the system we don’t have to pay any extra, and since we all have access to that care the system can put additional emphasis on preventive medicine (to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death) –which saves money in the long run.

How is it then that this seems not to be possible in the U.S.? The reason lies with the combination of two factors:

  • economic, because that way the industry (medical, including doctors, and pharmaceutical) makes a lot more money
  • political, because many Americans still see universal health coverage as a form of “collectivization” or “bolshevization”, associated with communist regimes

The end result, in any case, is that Americans pay a lot more for their healthcare (the US spends two to three times as much per capita on health care as most industrialized countries). But there must be a reason for that, right? Maybe it’s more expensive because it is better? I’m afraid not: the U.S. ranks 28th, below almost all other rich countries, when it comes to the quality of its healthcare assessed by UN parameters.

The so-called Obamacare (officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) tried to remedy that situation, and in fact did cut by 20 million the number of Americans without health insurance -but it fell short of being truly universal, leaving nearly 30 million people not covered. We all know that the current administration will not work to extend coverage (on the contrary, even if they failed to repeal Obamacare entirely), so for now the status quo remains. Undoubtedly, this will remain a hot topic in American politics for years to come.

As to my procedure, it was 100% successful and I am on my way to a full recovery. Thanks for asking.