Living in America was something of a culture shock for me when I first arrived. Trivial things for the most part, like missing that brand of biscuits you like with your tea or Cadbury’s chocolate. All small things and easily remedied. The one thing which still stands out in my mind is the difference in the health care systems between the US and the UK and how little each country knows about the other.
During Obama’s first run for president there was a push to go to a system that was similar to the UK which eventually became “Obama care” to suit all parties. A common theme I heard during the election was the term “Socialised Medicine” when they referred to the UK health system (NHS). I still find it hard to believe that people would vote against something that would make health care available to everyone and affordable. The current system in America is hideously expensive, driven by drug and insurance companies and the patient is the one who loses out in the end. The worst is, they don’t know any better as this is how it’s always been.
I have first hand experience of the health care system in the UK and in America and feel I have a good case for comparison of the two. My father and I have also gone through similar surgeries but with far different outcomes. So how do they compare?
First off, I don’t want anyone to think I am bashing the American health system. I am alive today through the work of American surgeons and two major surguries. I had my thyroid completely removed in 2009 when it decided to go rogue and started to crush my windpipe. Then the bugger wrapped around my spinal chord and refused to come out without a fight. So we all thought it was best to part company. The aftercare took a long time due to balancing my hormone levels through hormone replacement.
This is where I first ran into what I like to call; “The Insurance Company are dicks” syndrome. I was settled in to a dose of synthroid which seemed to be working fine, when I noticed my prescription changed, without any consultation from me or mention from my endocrinologist. I was switched to levothyroxine. I trusted my endocrinologist and took the medication and had a bad reaction to it, I had crippling muscle cramps and my hormone levels were all over the place. When I next went in for a blood test, I asked them why I was switched. The answer? The insurance company told them to switch to levothyroxine as it was cheaper. I immediately went back onto Synthroid and I was fine again.
An interesting side note to this story, my health insurance with my company claimed they had the best prices on medication and my prescription each month would only be $40. Which is interesting as with my Wallgreens medication card, it would only cost me $30. So it was more expensive on insurance, than paying for it with a store loyalty discount program. Hence the phrase “The Insurance Company are dicks”.
Next in my tale of adventures in American medicine, my Testosterone levels showed up really low since the operation, resulting in osteoporosis and a number of side effects. My endocrinologist caught it and prescribed “Androgel” which is a gel you put under your arm each day and it provides a steady release of the hormone. At the time I was diagnosed with this I had no insurance and to give my endocrinologist their credit, they never charged me for blood work on a visit to keep costs down, but the Androgel came to $350. I can’t afford that along with synthroid it would be a hefty chunk of change out of my wages each month.
I talked it through with my doctor and they recommended an alternative. Intra muscular injection every week. The cost of the testosterone was only $80 and good for a couple of months each dosage. The insurance companies push the Androgel because of the money they can make on it, but the injection is far more cheaper and carries less risk with my wife coming in to contact with it. So all I need to do is make sure I don’t annoy my wife before she jabs me in the arm every Friday.
More recently my colon decided to carry on from where my thyroid left off and carried on the task of killing me. So a number of trips to the emergency room and one large stomach scar later, my colon was shortened and everything else stretched and rearranged so that all my plumbing was intact.
As part of the prep for the surgery my urologist called me in and as he’s a specialist it costs me $80 to come into his office instead of the normal $40 GP co-pay. I walked in, payed my $80 co-pay and he just wanted to shake my hand and wish me luck for the surgery. I was done in 15 minutes total. There was no need for that visit at all and yet they still charged me the co-pay.
My father has had colon cancer and undergone similar surgeries in the UK, along with keyhole heart surgery and he’s getting on in life. So considering the way i felt with my surgery, I have nothing but respect for my dad going through the same ordeal at his age. Here’s the difference between the two countries.
My dad has a nurse visit him at home, once a week to check up on him. The NHS sends food supplements as well as anything else he needs and checks on him to make sure he’s ok. Total cost = £0
For me, I owe around $10,000 in medical bills, each new visit to the doctor increases this by $80. My medication goes from $40 – 80 a month. I don’t want tests as each one costs more. For the prelim for my surgery I had an EKG ($500) and a colonoscopy ($770 and they are hounding me worse than a London bookie trying to reclaim a gambling debt.)
So what do I want to say to anyone from the UK who gripes about the NHS. First “Shut the fuck up“. The NHS is a national treasure and should be preserved. You get treatment when you need it no matter your financial status. The quality of treatment (in my opinion) is much better than the US and you only get prescribed what you need, not some expensive drug with bad side effects that your really don’t need to be taking. I also found after my surgery, the best places for information online for post surgery care was the NHS which had the most practical advice and it was free.
And to my American friends who refuse to go for a single payer system. “Are you fucking mad?” why would you vote to keep a system that would leave you on the street the moment you couldn’t afford treatment. Medical expenses result in 42% of all bankruptcies in the US. Why would you not vote for something affordable? Are you crazy?
I’ll stop ranting now ….. until my next bill comes in and then I’ll add an addendum :-)