Saturday, March 1, 2008

Under the US system, I probably wouldn't be alive...

I am a major beneficiary of Japan's National Health Insurance single-payer system. I was enrolled in it by my then host family within the first two weeks of my arrival here some years ago and I've been on it ever since.

Over the years, a medical condition I have that I knew about since college had gradually worsened -I was being closely monitored by medical specialists here- and it was determined that surgical intervention was required. At the time I was mulling whether to have it done here or back in the US, which would've cost me over $35, 000, since I was uninsured there.

I elected to have the surgery done here, which was fully covered by my National Health Insurance above the Y50,000 (about $500) monthly deductible, that included a month-long hospital stay. However, there were complications, requiring another emergency operation. This extended my hospital stay another two weeks, but all additional costs were fully covered by the NHI.

Five years later, my condition worsened again, requiring yet another surgical intervention.
Once again, it required another 1-month hospital stay. The first and third surgeries I underwent were decided after I had deep consultations with my specialists. They had agreed to undergo the first surgical procedure that I had insisted be tried, which ultimately required the third surgery. So it was my decision -not the specialists- that ultimately lead to my requiring further surgery. However, all of it was covered by NHI.

Had I not come here to Japan and stayed back in the US, I shudder to think where (if) I'd be (living) today. I wasn't 'gainfully' employed and had no health insurance (having this "pre-condition" would've probably rendered me uninsurable anyway). At best-case, I would have had the operation(s), and be in medical debt of well over $100,000 now, or worst-case, dropped over dead due to lack of treatment because I couldn't afford the surgical intervention.

So for, me, Universal Health Care works. Under the current US health care system? Well, I probably wouldn't be here to relate this anecdote to you.


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