When my wife and I worked in England between 1987 and 1990 we obtained a residence permit and were entitled to participate in the British National Health Service (NHS). I would like to share our experience with you.
We were assigned a doctor but told if we were not satisfied we could request a change of physicians. I never had to wait as much as 15 minutes past an appointment time to see a doctor and made an appointment the same day I called with a sore throat, which is many times impossible even here in Seattle.
In England all prescriptions cost us in dollars roughly $4.20. After age 60 for women and 65 for men they were free. The government has very strong buying power; there is much more spent per capita on meaningful research than in the U.S., but none wasted on advertising.
The TV media recently aired charts depicting how the dramatic increase in prescription medication cost to patients parallels the expenditures for advertising. It was also divulged that the funds for the facetious advertising on TV, under the guise of "Citizens for a Better Medicare," come mainly from pharmaceutical companies and many of the claims are basically not totally true; I know Canadians who are completely happy with their system, especially as related to preventive medicine and pediatrics. The Canadian government has exercised its prescription buying power to the benefit of all citizens.
When I needed a serious surgery on my eye, contrary to the "waiting list" stories, I was able to visit the specialist surgeon within one day and enter the hospital for my surgery the next day. The surgeon told me that I would be in the hospital for six days; I queried why this when in the States it is only a one day procedure. He said that was only because it was so "damned" expensive in the States and said that if my eye started to hemorrhage he would have a much better chance for saving my sight in the hospital. The British doctors were very realistic and have great consideration for patient comfort and care.
One day on a talk radio show in Seattle the subject was health care and a doctor from Canada called and asked that anyone knowing of a patient on a waiting list in Canada please call him; he stated he has no patients on a waiting list; no one called. During that same talk show a gentleman called to say he worked in England for five years and he, his wife and three children could not have experienced better health care, especially prenatal care. We all know there can be horror stories anywhere; some of the villages in the hinterlands of Scotland do not have a resident doctor, much as certain remote areas in the United States.,
The NHS also has coverage for hearing aids. The testing for the aids, and the aids, are supplied in a hospital, not sold on every street corner. When I had a problem with ear wax, my doctor suggested I come to the clinic and have the nurse clean my ears. When I asked if I could do this at home, he said why when an experienced nurse would be safer and no cost to me. NHS also provides partial cost of eyeglasses and dental care. All good news for any senior!
How can we discredit any other countries' health care when we are the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care for its citizens?
Many Americans don't realize how many medications and health care discoveries have occurred in those countries with universal health care, where a larger percentage of pharmaceutical costs are invested in research. However, it was an American company that developed the extremely profitable medication, Viagra, which is not exactly life saving.
The British National Health Service is financed by a payroll tax of 10 percent for employees and 12 percent for employers, but this also covers unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicare benefits as we know them.
In the aggregate, this is significantly less than Americans pay now; of course British patients avoid the enormous cost of paperwork our systems generate. With such a system in the U.S., the cost of hiring new employees would be reduced and employers would be able to minimize premium overtime pay, because the incremental cost of fringe benefits for a new employee would be significantly reduced.
Everyone, including children, middle-aged and the elderly, would be covered regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, employer, pre-existing conditions, income level, etc. We were certainly thrilled with a system that didn't generate mountainous, complicated, difficult-to-reconcile volumes of paperwork.
You need to live in one of these countries and become involved in a total care system and not listen to criticisms and sometimes fallacious claims that such systems don't work.
Lindsey E. Herrell lives in Federal Way, Washington.