NHS

I like the NHS (British National Health Service).

I can’t speak to its current economic crises, nor can I rebut the arguments of those who would like to abolish it. But, I can speak as a new NHS beneficiary and, as a former resident of the US I can offer anecdotal comparisons of the two systems.

Last autumn, my son David broke his collar bone, son Ben broke his arm. Both incidents obviously required the care of our paediatrician. Ben’s accident occurred in our home town of Wichita Falls, while David’s took place in Beaumont, where the family was staying during my initial three months in Scotland.

Ben went to the usual clinic and saw our family paediatrician. David went to a local doctor.

Since that time we have had series of bills from doctors, laboratories, X-ray technicians and medical supply companies. Costs ranged widely. There was a doctor’s fee well over $1000 and a bill for a sling that was less than $10.

Claims were filed with our insurance company and some of the fees were paid. But, some came back to us. We realized they’d been misfiled by the doctor’s office so we sent them back with instructions to re-file. They came back again. Some of the bill had been paid, but other expenses were excluded, leaving us responsible for the remainder. We reviewed our policy and counter-claimed that the remaining fees ought to be at least partially paid by our insurer. We requested a second re-filing.

All of this transpired over a period of months and, I kid you not that we received the last bill only yesterday, nearly a full year after the incident. The letter included the threat that our failure to pay would leave us at the mercy of a collection agency.

Our monthly premium for the privilege of having health insurance was $500 and did not cover dental work or eye exams.

Contrast that with the NHS. Our doctor’s office is a five minute walk from the house. We have all had an appointment to meet the doctor. We have had no difficulty scheduling appointments and, aside from registering with the NHS and filling out a health history form, there has been no further paperwork and…no bills.

The dentist is a six minute walk from the house and we have all had our teeth cleaned. The older kids have been placed on a waiting list for braces, which will cost us nothing. Fees for the check ups were nominal.

My recent eye exam cost me nothing.

As you might expect, a chunk of my monthly pay check is taken by the NHS, and they are unapologetic about taking it. I am paying for my “free health care,” but the care is comprehensive and covers everyone in the nation.

There are “private pay” health facilities available and British citizens have the option of supplementing their health care with their own funds. But, my Uncle tells the story that both he and a friend had the same procedure done. My Uncle went with the NHS and was treated before noon. His friend opted for private pay and was treated by an NHS doctor at around 11 PM. The doctor had already done a full day’s work for the NHS.

A friend of mine in the US grew up poor by US standards and his family never had health insurance. He was complaining of a tooth ache when I saw him last and I suggested he should go to a dentist. He said, “Doctors are for rich people.”

What he said really hit me between the eyes. I have always been “rich,” and have never had to go without the best available health care. I realized for the first time what a tremendous privilege that was, and what a travesty of justice that the wealthiest country on earth should fail to provide its poor with basic health care.

President Obama has encountered mountainous opposition to his plans for universal health care, and the debate has spilled over to the UK where long dormant complaints about the NHS have surfaced like a lingering infection.

I do not doubt that there are serious economic problems with the NHS. There are serious economic problems with everything these days. There are also many who can make legitimate claims about the failure of the NHS to provide their loved ones with adequate care.

But my experience has been the opposite and I am grateful to the NHS for the quality and efficiency of its care.

And, the poor are served in this country alongside the rich, without distinction between the two, an idea whose time has come for the US.

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