An Outside Perspective on the American Health Care System

Goodlifer: An Outside Perspective on the American Health Care System

Healthy people are not very profitable, this fact defines the corporate health care system we have in America today. When companies are allowed, even encouraged, to profit off the unhealthiness of the people, why would they have any interest in keeping us healthy?

Socialized Medicine, those two scary words that the health care reform opposition throws around like it will mean the end of the world, is a term that was actually invented as part of a strategy devised by a Public Relations firm under contract by the American Medical Association to campaign against President Truman’s proposed health care plan during the cold war. It worked back then and has now been dug up again as a scare tactic by the health care reform opposition, trying to make people terrified of endangering our free-market American economy with socialism. Guess what? We already have socialized medicine, it’s called Medicare and we all pay into it. Why not have a system were we still pay but are actually allowed to use the public health care, and not required to pay for private plans? The argument that the European countries that have these types of health care systems pay so much more in taxes does not stand when the numbers are crunched. In the end, Americans end up paying more for health care.

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I grew up in Sweden, a country that has a public health care system (socialized!), and would be the first to admit that it certainly has its flaws. Wait times to see a doctor can sometimes be very long, and if you need an operation sometime during the summer months you’re just going to have to wait until August, when the doctors come back from vacation, unless your condition is life threatening in which case you will get to see a physician immediately. Many people there are indeed annoyed with the system (but don’t we all love to complain about current systems?), and private health insurance is becoming increasingly popular, but only as a supplement to the established system. My mother battled cancer this past year and was impeccably cared for by the public system. She saw the same nurses and doctors throughout her (successful) treatment and received a phone number she could call anytime to talk to someone who knew about her medical history and current condition, and was able to receive quick answers to her questions without having to explain the situation to anyone. She was confident in the care she received and never paid anything after the inital visits.

Children have free health care (no co-pays for doctor visits or medicine) until they turn twenty. It’s a tragedy that American children are denied basic public health care because their parents may not have a job at all or one that does not offer health insurance. Like going to school, all children should have access to good public health care, free of charge. They are our future and without healthy children, that future is not very bright. Over-treatment is not common either. If an obese male with heart problems, high blood pressure, high colesterol etc. goes to see his doctor in the U.S., he would be prescribed a slew of medications to “treat” a condition that could better be treated with a diet and exercise regimen. However, organic farmers and gyms don’t pay doctors to give this advice. Pharmaceutical companies frequently give kickbacks to doctors that prescribe their drugs to patients, whether they really need them is another question. This is free-market health care in a nutshell.

People are starting to demand regulation on health care. Corporations have profited on our declining health for too long.

People are starting to demand regulation on health care. Corporations have profited on our declining health for too long.

My first experience with the American health care system was when I, with my foreign student health insurance, went to see a doctor for something simple, maybe a cold, I cannot even recall at this point. The doctor did not pay much attention to my health problem, but kept on telling me how he thought I should go down to South Beach and pursue a modeling career. Uncomfortable by his very inappropriate remarks I tried to switch the topic back to what I was there for and jokingly told him that I think I enjoy food too much to ever be a model. He then said, “oh, I can give you pills for that, pills that will make you skinny in no time.” Shocked and disgusted I left the doctor’s office (conveniently located in a stripmall), without magic diet pills. My second experience came when I went to see a podiatrists for an ingrown toe nail problem. Under local anesthetic, he chopped off the affected side of my nail without even removing the pink nail polish on my toe. Needless to say it was quite the hack job and during the next few painful months I had to have the procedure redone two more times before I finally found someone that actually did it right.

I later went to a dentist who put a beeping instrument in my mouth and discovered I had ten cavities that needed fixing, which would only set me back a few thousand dollars (with health insurance). He also informed me that I had wisdom teeth that needed to be extracted and a very bad overbite, for which I  needed corrective braces. I very Swedishly asked him why it mattered to my health that I had this overbite and he said “well (gasp), when you get older the skin around your mouth may loose elasticity and you may not look so good.” I had the wisdom teeth pulled, but a month later, sought a second opinion from my Swedish dentist, who assured me that only one cavity needed fixing and took care of it right away. Now, I had lost four wisdom teeth and a cavity but had instead acquired a brand new complex (I never even knew I had an overbite, now I can’t stop thinking about it!) and my dreams of an octogenarian modeling career seem forever squandered.

I have been to dermatologists that have tried to sell me microdermabrasions, acid peels and botox (“you’re never too young to start”). I have constantly had to switch doctors because I switched employment and therefore health plans, and every time this has happened it has been a hassle to try and find a doctor nearby my workplace that takes my insurance. I have been scammed by doctors who assured me they do take my insurance and then turned out not to and made me pay the full price for the visit. Most annoyingly, during all this time I have probably spent no more than an hour total with all the doctors combined, sometimes they barely looked at me during the two minutes of their time I was given.

During the near decade that I have lived in the United States I have often put off my doctor visits for trips to my motherland, knowing that I would feel much safer under the care of a Swedish physician. They have my charts on file and I never have to fill out any forms. Here, regardless if I had been to a particular doctor’s office before, I was always seated in the waiting room with a clipboard of papers to fill out. This seems so inefficient, and how in the world can I be expected to remember exactly which shots I have had as a child and the dates for them? It’s pure insanity.

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There are doctors out there that are trying to rethink the way we do health. Hello Health based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn offers basic affordable subscription plans with supplemental co-pays that vary for the type of service that is required. Hello Health taps into the way we all communicate nowadays by using the internet to offer personalized care, through email, IM or video chat. Patients save time and money and can build relationships with physicians the way they do with other people in their lives. It’s a great health care model, but it will not work for everyone (senior citizens are perhaps not that savvy with the video chat). We need more of this type of innovation in order to rebuild a system that can truly work for everyone. We demand and expect tailored solutions that fit into our daily lives in many other areas, why should health care be a one-size-fits-all kind of deal?

One in five of every dollar spent in this country is spent on health care, yet our life expectancy is lower than that of almost every other rich country. According to Families USA, over 20,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford to pay for health care coverage. Whoever protests against rationed health care should give that a thought, we already do ration health care by excluding these people from the system. According to John Holahan, co-author of the January 2009 study, “Rising Unemployment, Medicaid and the Uninsured,” published by the Kaiser Commission, 15,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day because the insurance companies can simply decide, on a whim, that they no longer want to provide coverage to those that need it most. When somewhere around a thousand companies are allowed to run this 2.4 trillion industry, this is what we get — business decisions purely based of profitability. Whoever wants to pull the plug on grandma, it’s surely not President Obama. However, he needs to really step up and take the lead on health care reform, it is simply not possible to please everyone here. Congressman Anthony Weiner, in an interview with NPR, referred to Obama’s strive for a bipartisan health care plan as being akin to that of “a child searching for a unicorn,” they’d like it if it appeared but it’s highly unlikely that will ever happen. Republicans have made it their point to oppose anything the President suggests, an immature strategy that will hurt them in the long run, but hurt the people more in the short term. The government need to push health care reform through, with or without Republican support. The plan needs to be bold and radical, not a diluted half-measure.

Our health care costs more than anywhere else in the world (a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows that in the most recent figures available, U.S. spending on health care per capita was $5,711 in 2003, the second-place finisher, Luxembourg, spends $4,611), it excludes large parts of the population, and it is simply not working. We have shorter life expectancies and are generally less healthy than the rest of the world. Who can honestly say we don’t need reform? Inform yourself (Politifact’s Truth-o-meter is a great resource to find out the truth about all that is said in the media) and take a stand, this is an issue you need to care about.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Yes! Exactly right.

    Another fear tactic is that we will pay more TAXES for health care, but we are already doing that in the form of health insurance premiums and co-payments. Having my daughter added to my health insurance costs me $98 a week or $5,096 a year! Just having my daughter accounts for more than 10% of my income. If I add my wife it would be another $120.00 a week, or $6,240 a year.

    Total costs: $11,336. That’s a 20% tax just on health care right there.

  2. Great article Johnna, and so true…as another non native long term resident here, I too have found myself completely baffled by the way they hand you around with each Doctor unwilling to see a link between symptoms, health, diet etc…One has to have large amounts of money in order to be well taken care of here. And yes it is time for Obama to step up and swing the bat…NOW!

  3. Wow, well written Johanna! I’m with you!

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What constitutes the good life? It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves since the dawn of time and something we all strive for. To us, the good life is not a destination but a journey. We want to see more positivity in the world. Thinking happy thoughts makes for happy people, and happy people are more productive, innovative and at peace with the world. We believe in the transformative power of good news.

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