Without a safety net

Portugal certainly has its share of problems, but one thing its citizens don’t have to worry about — even if they have lost their jobs in this miserable economy — is the “luxury” of basic health care.

This narrative, written by a marine biologist and freelance science writer, is a jarring illustration of just how bad the health care situation in the US has become.

I tell my kids not to do things that I certainly enjoyed doing as a kid, like don’t climb high on trees, run a little slower on the trail, watch out for roots and stones! It’s not just the usual parental concern either. I’m consciously thinking “oh my god, I cannot afford to fix them if they get broke!”.

This is the luxury gap between the between the 20% of nonelderly americans who are uninsured and the rest. The luxury is, of course, being able to just walk into a doctor’s office and see them at the appropriate times.

It’s not a luxury in Portugal…or any EU nation, or Canada, or pretty much any other developed nation and quite a few developing ones. But here’s what happened to the author when his kids needed their regular vaccinations and check-ups for school — and this was with a health insurance policy, which cost $1,400 for six months of coverage:

Exactly 6 months later we received bills, after I no longer had insurance (I had to leave my phd for variety of reasons), and addressed to our kids’ names and not mine, the policy holder, for substantial amounts. Apparently, my daughter owed over $400 and my son owed over $1600 to the doctor office, which was the net left over after the insurance contributed about $200 for each visit.

Naturally, I was dumbfounded. I already paid $1400, which I had to ask my department head for an advance to cover their own insurance (there were no monthly payment plans offered by the way), but they only covered about 20% of the medical bills? Ironically, as an uninsured I would have been able to get a discounted rate and probably pay less than the amount I actually owed after the insurance company gave their dues.

So the 6-month health insurance cost $1,400, and then two children’s check-ups and vaccinations cost an additional $2,000. And then…it got worse.

It’s a long read, but very compelling. This single issue is one of the main reasons I can’t see ever returning to the US. Not unless I could find a job with stupendous health coverage — and those jobs are fast disappearing.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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11 Responses to Without a safety net

  1. syrin says:

    The US health gcare system is something that I simply can’t understand. It just doesn’t compute inside my mind, all I get are windows blue screens of death. Honestly.

    Then again, I fear our government hopes to move in the US direction sooner rather than later. :s

  2. Jbrandao says:

    oh I perfectly understand the american health care system. It’s a capitalist asshole’s wet dream.

  3. Alma says:

    This is crazy! The US is a supposedly developed country and yet it cares so little about its citizens that they have to pay for their education and health care themselves! For the sum Kevin Zelnio describes, I would get about six years of medical insurance, and that’s not to cover medical costs like those racked up by his wife and children – those are covered by the state when reaching over 900 kronor ($140 or €100) within a year, and the same goes for prescription meds except with a slightly higher limit.

    My medical insurance covers injuries and deceases that leave lasting damage; after a medical check-up and some processing time, a “level of invalidity” is determined by the insurance agency and compensation is given. (Mine goes up to 900 000 kronor, about $140 000, at the highest level of invalidity!) It also covers any rehabilitation, medical equipment and hospitalizations one might need. (Staying at the hospital is free in emergencies, the compensation is given to the insurance holder as a sort of income during the stay.) Oh, and depending on the type of insurance, it also includes varying levels of life insurance.

    I really don’t think Sweden is that much richer than the US (in fact I believe the GDP per capita is slightly higher in the US), so it’s simply a question of how the money is spent. Someone in congress needs to realize that healthy, well-educated people is the best means of building a functional and prosperous nation!

  4. Jbrandao says:

    of course it’s how the money is spent. The US has trillions of dollars of foreign debt, and just keeps feeding its military machine. It’s fighting a war in afghanistan, it’s got bases all over the world, it has a huge army at home with huge infrastructures, and spends a ridiculous amount of money on research and development of new weapons and military vehicles. If costs with the military were cut by 10%, I’m pretty sure the US could could afford health care for americans.

  5. M. says:

    There is one thing that bothers me… The difference in price of the same medical treatments or meds. My kid’s check-ups and vaccinations cost me nothing – they’re covered by state, but if I had a wish to do it using ‘private’ system thus had to pay 100%, I still could afford it easily. Where do US prices come from?

  6. Jbrandao says:

    Greed from the private medical sector, including pharmaceutical companies.

  7. xenatuba says:

    As someone who has wonderful (and I mean that in every sense of the word) insurance in the U.S. I know how fortunate I am. That is one of the things our union (yet another vanishing breed) has fought long and hard for. Medical costs in the U.S. are driven from the “for profit” private sector and pharmaceutical developments. It is just insane.

    One sort of interesting thing that I read recently talked about “socialized medicine” and how it is reviled by many here. The U.S. military is a functioning example of managed medicine the works quite well in the U.S. and doesn’t seem to have caused a great deal of problems…

    Although the political idiots seem to now be focused on birth control and abortion issues, earlier in 2011 it looked as if they were trying to start a class warfare between union and non-union employees, plus the public sector vs. private sector…I don’t think those issues are gone, and once the presidential election passes will crop back up bigger than ever. I predict that unless there is great change, the U.S. will become a nation of uneducated serfs…

  8. M. says:

    I am sorry, this post is unrelated, but I feel like sharing this information. Tonight’s Poland-Portugal football (aka soccer) match at our virgin National Stadium. I cheer for Portugal of course 🙂

  9. Jbrandao says:

    Unfortunately the american political system is being run on one hand by a relatively sensible party, which makes a few mistakes and on the other, by a party being ruled by religious ignorant zealots. And there’s no other word for it. EVERY single one of those republican candidates for president, is not only an idiot, but also a terrible human being. Just look at Santorum… makes me wanna puke (no pun intended lol). Then Romney is just a terrible high-class detached from reality person, and he just may be the most electable of the lot. Newt Gingrich is a corrupt lying piece of s***. Ron Paul seems like the “alternative” one, but the truth is he’s a doctor who not only does not believe in evolution (and that’s a measure of intelligence for me) but also is opposed to a social health care system (and in the early 90’s he had an offical newsletter with his name, and it had a lot of racist content).

  10. Unbelievable story, shame on the US health care.

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