Give Me Universal Health Care
This story was adapted from a column that originally appeared in Cafe Mom's The Stir blog.
What would universal health care look like? I have somewhat of an idea.
Last summer, I took my three children to Mexico for a summer cultural immersion experience. We spent about a month in the country where I was born and where my mother’s family still lives. I wanted my children to learn about their culture, the language, and give them a glimpse of what life is like in another country.
While we were there, my 10-year-old developed a high fever. I had packed everything in my medicine cabinet for my trip but nothing I was armed with was working. I called our pediatrician in the States and she told me what I already knew. I’d have to take him to a doctor. I made an appointment with a doctor whose clinic I had passed before. I braced myself for what was to come next. What would the doctor’s office look like? What would this cost me? What if I couldn’t afford it? I was in a panic.
After I called the office, I had an appointment scheduled for less than two hours after my call. I arrived to the doctor’s office to find a very clean waiting room. Within minutes, we were sitting in front of the doctor who was at her desk taking notes as I explained to her the symptoms. I was struck at how diligently she asked me questions. She was at her desk, I was on the other side. I couldn’t remember a visit ever like this, especially to discuss a fever. It was like a scene from an old movie where the doctor has his black medical bag and listens intently to his patient.
After the questioning ended, the doctor began to look him over. We sat down again and she explained that my son had strep throat. We went over treatment methods and I was handed the prescription. "No need to go to the pharmacy," she said.
As we checked out, the receptionist told me that the credit card machine was down and that I would have to pay cash. Since we were not residents, we had to pay the costs ourselves. I quickly explained to her that I only had a few hundred U.S. dollars with me and that I would not be able to get more cash until the next day. As I said this to her, I was embarrassed and mortified. She looked at me and smiled as she handed me my bill for the visit and seven days of prescriptions: $54 U.S. dollars. Twenty dollars less than what I paid for the Tamaflu my son needed after he caught the flu. The $75.00 dollars was my portion minus the portion my insurance covered.
I knew that Mexico was one of the many countries of the world that offers universal health care to its residents. It joins Canada, Germany, and almost all of the top 10 richest countries in the world. All except the United States.
What I didn’t know was how false all the ugly rumors I had heard about universal health care were. There were no long lines to see the doctor, the waiting room was not full or dirty, and I was able to get my appointment and prescription medicine right away. The doctor gave us individual attention and the care we received was excellent. In fact, we were back again two days later with my other son for the same reason. The service and the wait were no different.
I realize my son, thankfully, did not have a more serious condition and in our country, a serious health condition can mean your insurance company terminates your relationship -- a practice no longer allowed thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Before health care reform, if you found yourself in this position, you were left on your own to cover costs and if you were like most families, you'd incur so much debt it would take you years to recover. Assuming you didn’t go bankrupt first.
There are many reasons why our former system didn't work and only false rumors as to why aiming for universal health care is a bad idea.
Do I want universal health care? If it’s anything like what I experienced in Mexico, you bet I do.