Saturday, March 1, 2008

The mood was shock and disbelief that any country could be so callous...

My experiences with universal health care have been in Australia, not in Japan, but I think they are equally applicable. Two and a half years ago, my wife's mother in Australia was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My wife and I moved from Japan to Australia to care for her during the final months of her life. The care she received was excellent throughout. She was able to go to the hospital whenever she wanted for as long as she wanted, wait times were never longer than what would be expected at a hospital in the US, and her doctors were able to recommend procedures for her based on whether they thought they would be beneficial rather than without worrying whether or not they would be covered by her insurance. All her medication was subsidized by the national health care system, and the most we ever had to pay out of pocket was $20AU. In the end, except for the small amount we had to pay for medication, all the care she received cost us nothing. My wife and I were able to focus on spending quality time with her in her last few months rather than worrying that her treatment would bankrupt us.

I lived in Australia for two years and made use of their national health care system numerous times myself. Depending on the billing practices of the doctor, a visit to the GP would either cost nothing at all or between $20 and $30AU. Last June I had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum and was admitted to the hospital overnight, and I found the care I received to be of the highest quality at no cost to myself.

Yes, the tax rate in Australia is higher than in the US, but higher taxes are not crippling the Australian economy. Australians are prosperous and happy, and small businesses thrive there. Thanks largely to generous social programs that help insure a basic standard of living for all Australian citizens, Australia has nowhere near the level of crippling, hopeless poverty that afflicts some parts of the United States. The Australian universal health care system is now so popular that to attempt to eliminate it would be political suicide.

I watched Michael Moore's Sicko in Australia last summer, and the general mood in the theater was disbelief and shock that any country could be so callously barbaric toward its own most vulnerable members. I agree with them, and think that if America truly wants to call itself a standard-bearer for freedom and equality in the world it should start by making sure that its own most needy citizens get the health care they desperately need.

Isaac Griffith-Onnen

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Below is the first posting I made on my blog several months ago:

In praise of universal coverage

The issue of health care is front and center these days due in large part to Michael Moore's new film. His documentary, "Sicko" shines a light on a dysfunctional health care system that does more to serve the interests of for-profit insurers than it does for the average American citizen. One of the most absurd features of the US for-profit health care system is denying someone access to treatment or a procedure based on a pre-existing condition.

I recall trying to explain the concept of pre-existing condition to a friend from another country. This person could not fully grasp the concept as applied to health care because in his reality it did not exist - a reality where every citizen has access to high quality and affordable medical and dental care and would never be denied treatment based on past treatment, or a present medical condition - isn't that when people would most need care - to treat a present medical condition? Of course it is.

I am privileged to be able to share a view on this issue as a resident of a country that has an excellent universal heath care system, and thankfully NO pre-exisiting condition exclusions. In Japan, where I work and live, I am fully covered under a comprehensive universal coverage scheme through my city office. The process of enrolling was straightforward and painless. I presented myself at the city office, answered a few questions regarding visa status (I hold a work visa), last year's income in Japan (I had none as I had been in the US) and then I waited for a few minutes. The clerk came back with a new health insurance certificate for my family and informed me that I would receive my insurance premium invoice in a few weeks.

Sure enough, in a few weeks I received my insurance premium invoice in the mail. The annual premium was approximately $300.00 US dollars. I had to look again and confirm this with a Japanese friend - there was no mistake. I had the option of paying in ten installments or in a lump sum. At that premium I opted to take care of it all at once and viola, our health insurance was paid up for a year. Of course, our premiums were nominal due to not having any income to report in Japan for the previous year; this year they are higher but still much lower (around $230.00 per month for two people) than what I would pay for a private policy for my family in the US - another excellent feature of this plan is that the premium also includes long-term care insurance for adults over the age of 40.

There is nothing like the feeling of security that comes from knowing that when necessary, you and your family have access to affordable medical and dental treatment. Having been without such coverage in the US and having experienced the accompanying anxiety, I feel fortunate to be able to participate in a system that is, unfortunately, and sadly, out of reach for 47 million Americans, many of whom are children.