Rates for my husband’s small company’s group health insurance plan jumped more than 60 percent this month. That hike – costing us an extra $170 a month, going from $280 to $448 for Craig’s individual coverage – meant Craig and his business partners recently went shopping for health insurance.
In the search for a new, more affordable health care plan that would cover a group of healthy 30-somethings and their expanding families, we suddenly found ourselves lost, attempting to navigate a path to quality, affordable healthcare amid the ambiguous maze that is our health care industry today.
And without really meaning to, we all became part of the debate about health care reform that’s currently raging across this country.
On Sunday, Craig and Elle and I passed by a sleek, brightly painted bus splashed with the slogan, “Hands Off My Healthcare,” drawing a crowd in a Montrose superstore parking lot. On Tuesday, we listened to elected officials and their constituents duke it out in televised Town Hall meetings, beamed into our living room via CNN. The debate about health care; who has it and who doesn’t, how much it costs and whether the government should get into the business of reforming it has reached fever pitch.
So I found it curiously fitting that while the country’s collective ears were tuned to the current health-care discussion, my family had just been pinched by one of the hot-button issues currently being discussed: The exorbitant, rapidly escalating cost of insurance premiums, and of all of health care, for that matter, in this country.
Elle was born in France, so I navigated a system of “socialized” medicine during my pregnancy and not-so-routine breech-birth of baby Elle by cesarean. What continues to pique my interest throughout this debate is the argument against health care reform that makes the case that changing the status quo, by providing a government-sponsored health care plan accessible to every American citizen, would, among other things, create a “socialized” medical system. And that is, apparently, inherently bad. As one woman at a Tuesday Town Hall meeting put it, the reform currently being discussed would represent “the systematic dismantling of this country.” As in America turning into Russia, as she went on to say.
I am not an authority on politics; I’m just a girl who had a baby in France and whose husband’s health insurance rates recently skyrocketed. So I won’t tackle the heatedly flung argument that the foundation of a democratic America would crumble if the 46 million uninsured citizens could receive health insurance thanks to the creation of a new government-run plan. Nor will I touch the claim that a reformed health system – one that wouldn’t allow insurance companies to drop a person’s coverage if they get sick, or deny a person coverage because of a preexisting condition (like pregnancy), or raise rates three times faster than inflation, and would require those companies to actually pay for preventative measures that may keep people from getting sick in the first place – would mark the end of capitalism in the U.S.
But I also won’t argue that the single-payer, socialized medical system found in France and in other healthy countries across the world is the end-all, be-all of health care systems (I don’t believe them to be). I will simply share what I learned and came to appreciate while in doctor’s offices and hospitals during the pregnancy and birth of my first child in France.
I received excellent free care during the half of my pregnancy spent in France. My ultrasounds lasted twice as long and were much more in-depth; instead of a fax-paper printout with three pictures of my baby, I received four glossy photo sheets with four images apiece, taken from every possible angle. I received monthly tests for toxoplasmosis (when I asked about a test for that deadly disease here, I was told to ask my vet to test my cat to see if it carried the disease – toxoplasmosis is not something pregnant women are routinely tested for here. Are cats, I wonder?)
Following my c-section, I was allowed to stay in the hospital for up to ten days (no extra cost) to recoup and recover. And when my face broke out in a weird bumpy post-pregnancy rash, which wasn’t a big deal except for that it made me feel even less happy about my post-baby appearance, I was ushered to a dermatologist who prescribed a cream that cleared it right up: Total cost for the prescription, 1.20 euro.
We were, of course, paying French taxes, so the “free” part is, I suppose, relative. But upon returning home, and discovering that we’d have a six-month waiting period before we could receive any benefits from our health insurance plan (meantime learning the hard way that if you don’t have insurance, a round of vaccinations costs around $450), the presumed evils of government-subsidized health care became even more indistinct.
My own very unscientific analysis of health care under a socialized medical system like the one in France has led me to this conclusion: While it’s not perfect, it does do more to care for people before they get sick than our system does now. And the statistics back that assertion up. Life expectancy is two to three years longer in France than it is in America, as is the case as well in Sweden, Iceland, and Cuba (all consistently ranked in the top five among countries with the healthiest citizens, and all also subscribing to some form of nationalized health system). Infant mortality rates are lower in those countries as well – in France, the 2005 Infant Mortality Rate per 1,000 was four, compared to seven in the U.S.
Perhaps most surprisingly, though, is that all of those countries actually spend less money per capita on health expenditures than we spend in America. According to the World Health Organization, the world’s healthiest countries (France, Sweden, Iceland, and Cuba) spend between 7-11 percent of their gross domestic product on health, whereas in the U.S. the total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP stands at more than 15.
This seems out of whack to me, especially when I’m staring down an insurance premium bill that jumped more than 60 percent in just one year. And Craig has gone to the doctor exactly zero times.
Legitimate concerns are being raised and, I think, heard in the escalating cacophony that has become the debate about health-care reform. Rather than talk about what we don’t want to become through reform of our health care system, perhaps the discussion could focus on what we would like to see from American health care. I believe we can learn something from countries like Australia, where insurance companies are required to charge the same premiums for all policyholders, regardless of their past medical history or preexisting conditions. Or Iceland, where a strong system of preventative care helps keeps the Icelandic people alive four years longer than the citizens of America. Or France, where the government funds all pre- and post-birth medical care, helping babies start their lives healthier and leading to lower infant mortality.
To get back to my family’s own miniature health care crisis, Craig and his business partners were, ultimately, able to keep their last year’s rates for this year, but only after agreeing to a huge jump in their deductible (from $3,000 to $5,000.)
While I can understand the fear many citizens have expressed about changing what has for so long been the status quo, opting to take that first step into what is still very much uncharted territory, my fear is greater for what will transpire if our country doesn’t take that step.
The next 60 percent jump in our insurance premium, for example.