Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Autoimmune Disorder and German health care system

My parents who are from California and Tennessee came to live in Germany in 1971 to pursue their academic careers. Thus, my older sister and I were born and raised in Germany, but have only U.S. citizenship. At the time of my parents’ immigration my mother was already very ill with juvenile diabetes, slowly losing her eyesight. During my childhood she had almost a dozen eye surgeries which were all paid for by the universal health care system of Germany and helped maintain her eyesight a little longer. Sadly, also other aspects of my mother’s health declined over the years and she became dependent on nursing staff to come to her apartment several times a day to check her blood sugar levels for her. Although we had fights with our health insurance over the amount of care they would pay for, we were glad that we lived in Germany and were able to afford the care that was needed. When my mother was diagnosed with end-stage ovarian cancer in May 2003, she was so ill that she died in hospital within three weeks after diagnosis. As hard as it was for us to deal with losing our mother and making funeral arrangements etc. we can be grateful that she received excellent care at the university hospital and that we did not have to pay any bills related to her hospital stay.

Not only our mother was highly dependent on the German universal healthcare system, at the age of 20 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and spent several weeks in the university hospital in the city where I was attending university. A myriad of diagnostic tests was performed, and no one ever said that certain tests could not be done due to high cost, and I never had to pay more than the normal amount of health insurance and prescription fees. Unfortunately, due to this pre-existing condition even in Germany I could no longer buy life-insurance. Already at that time I realized that I would probably never be able to afford life in the U.S. given my health issues. No one expected what happened less than five years later. At the age of 25, I suffered a stroke to the brainstem and cerebellum which left me in intensive care and then in a wheelchair for weeks. My health insurance paid for 8 days on the stroke unit, 5 weeks in a university hospital neurology unit, transfer to and 9 weeks in a highly specialized neurology rehabilitation facility, another 7 weeks in an outpatient rehabilitation facility in my hometown, and finally 2 more years of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. They never put a limit as to how long they would pay for it as long as the doctors said that the therapy was required. I was highly motivated and practised a lot, otherwise my rehabilitation would have taken much longer I’m sure.

In the year after my stroke I required major abdominal surgery and have had health problems ever since. However, due to the great rehabilitation program I went through after my stroke and the high-quality diagnostics and therapy I am getting for my continued health problems, I have been able to go back to working full-time, although in a different line of work. I am able to continue (and afford) my hobbies of riding horses and travelling and consider myself to have a high quality of life. From what I hear from friends and relatives who live in the U.S., I am quite certain that I would not be able to maintain this life standard there regarding the cost of doctor’s visits, medications etc. that I need every year.

Kern County, California

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