Sunday, January 14, 2007

NHS vs insurance

I am sick. There have been a lot of nasty viruses being passed around lately and now it is my turn. It's nothing more than a bad cold, but it does want to make me do nothing more than curl up in bed with a cup of tea and a book.

Following a theme, NHS Blog Doc wrote a report about the differences between UK and US healthcare here, and I've had numerous debates with people on the pros and cons of socialized medicine.

Several years ago, I needed to have my wisdom teeth pulled. I was getting severely painful abcesses and my dentist referred me to the local hospital. About six months later I was seen and x-rayed, and told I'd go on the waiting list which was around twelve months at the time. My mother had insurance through her work and called back the doctor to ask if that would make a difference. He said, "I can do next Monday if you like?"

I have not had many major run ins with the NHS, barring the usual antibiotics prescriptions from my local GP. So it makes sense that mere months after moving to the US I would have a rather nasty medical emergency. I managed to slip in the kitchen and stab myself in my left hand with a large knife, resulting in a panicked dash to the local ER. Several hours and a few stitches later, I was sent home. For five stitches, a mild sedative (I really don't like needles) and two bandaids I was billed around $1800.

$1800! I was mortified, and of course I wasn't covered by insurance! I was lucky that my father agreed to pay for the treatment, or I'd have been in a horrible situation. But it really made me think just how frightening it can be to know that if you have a serious accident or are diagnosed with a long-term illness, that if could bankrupt you or your family easily.

From this perspective, it would be easy to take comfort in the idea that in the UK if you fall down and break your leg, you will be treated and sent home and won't have to pay hospital fees. But at what cost? Of course there are the taxes that fund the NHS, but it's the hidden costs that only become apparent when you need them.

NHS Blog Doc writes regularly about his patients on a personal level, of how difficult it is to get mental health treatment for people with severe schizophrenia (as long as they haven't actually gotten violent), how he has to make agonizing choices on how to refer possible cancer cases, how infuriating it is to see his patients frightened and in pain and asking him why they have just been put on another waiting list.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know much about the politics and costs involved in healthcare. I just know that people have a right to prompt and safe treatment, no matter how much or little money they have.

On a lighter note, I need to update my blogroll; I've been reading some new blogs lately and I'd like to write a little about them soon.


At 1/14/2007 6:37 PM, Anonymous Mana said...

I honestly don't know how we can call ourselves a first-world country and yet have NO safety net for the less fortunate among us.

At 1/19/2007 5:14 AM, Blogger Otana said...

It's a disgrace, to be perfectly honest. The rich-poor divide in the United States is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

At 1/21/2007 6:13 AM, Anonymous Moley said...

I'm always amazed when I hear peoples stories about the NHS. I've basically been the NHS's bitch since the age of 6 months and it staggers me that the system keeps running.

There aren't enough doctors, there aren't enough nurses, there's no reason to become either of those unless you are sure of private practice, doctors and nurses get treated like shit constantly by patients and they have to put up with people that can't understand that yes it hurts now but it'll stop it hurting later.

I've been through just about everything the NHS can throw at me and I'm still satisfied with the system, sadly its people that abuse that system that ruin it. Hell at one point my cancer treatment was costing £140,000 a day, there is no way that my family could have even afforded thinking about that. So thanks to that I'm here today. Private care is nice but if the NHS goes they'll be alot of problems VERY fast.

At 1/21/2007 6:16 AM, Blogger Otana said...

If anyone knows the way the NHS treats its patients, it's you, Moley.

My exposure to the NHS has been somewhat limited, but I haven't been impressed with what I've seen. I think the best set up I saw (again, with limited exposure) was in Germany; private healthcare with low payments and high quality of care.


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