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I am an American citizen who has been living in Sweden for nearly 15 years now and have been following the health-care debate from the beginning. "Debate," however, may not be the best description of what I have seen and heard over the past month. As one of many democratic countries around the world that provides universal care to its citizens, Sweden has been mentioned on several occasions on both the pro and con side of the argument. I would like to share my own experiences.
We moved here when I was five months pregnant with our second daughter, and not knowing what to expect, I was quite nervous, but the transition was smooth and flawless. I was immediately called in for a prenatal-care checkup where I filled out the forms and was issued a health-care card. This was the last time I would be required to fill out papers. All I have ever needed to do since then was show my card and my medical history pops up on the computer screen.
Four months later our daughter was ready to make her entrance into the world. I had checked in to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon; she was born in the wee hours Monday. Even though it was a completely normal birth, we were allowed to stay until the following Thursday, four whole days. In addition, I had a private room with an extra bed so my husband could stay with us. The only thing missing was a TV, if I wanted to watch that I had to go to the TV room. The bill for this? The equivalent of $30, $5 a night for the extra bed and the rest to cover the use of the telephone.
Compare this to my experience in California when our first daughter was born. I had an excellent doctor, no complaints there, but it was always an hour or so in the waiting room even with an appointment. I was allowed to stay 48 hours in the hospital after the birth but only because I had had a C section, otherwise the standard time allowed by our insurance company was 24 hours. By the time I found out I was pregnant with our second daughter, our employer-based insurance changed and I was not allowed to go to my previous doctor. He was not on the list.
Then there is this talk about "death panels" for the disabled and elderly. If this was the goal of universal health care, then Sweden has failed miserably. The average lifespan in Sweden is 83 years and 5.3 percent of the total Swedish population of 9 million is over 80. Sweden spends more of its GDP on the elderly than any other country in the world. Neither do the disabled need to plead for their lives before a "death panel." To the contrary, a woman I know who broke her neck in a diving accident at the age of 22 and became paralyzed from the waist down has had both her home and her car retrofitted courtesy of the health-care system. Expensive? Of course, but it has meant that she has kept her dignity, remained relatively self-sufficient and can continue to work in some capacity and not become a burden to her family or society. In other words, it pays for itself in the long run. We all benefit.
At times there can be waiting lists for certain procedures, but certainly not when it comes to anything life threatening. And as far as regular doctors visit go it has been my experience that if I have an appointment at 3:15 that means I actually see the doctor at 3:15. Not a half hour to an hour or more later. We pay the equivalent of a 20 dollar co-pay with a ceiling of 100 dollars per year . After that the insurance kicks in 100%. Having all medical records computerized saves time, money and a lot of frustration.
Most developed countries now have some sort of universal coverage . They believe that the lack of healthcare has a negative affect on everyone and it is in the best interest of country to provide it. A society where people don't seek care because of lack of money or insurance has an adverse effect on the work force and therefore on the economy. We think of fire and police protection as a basic right, why not healthcare? Imagine waking up to find your house on fire, calling 911 and being told you needed proof of insurance before they could send a firetruck.
The Swedish model will probably not work in the US but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look outside the borders at some good ideas we could borrow from other countries. Americas Strength has come from recognizing her flaws and finding a way to fix them. To deny problems exist or to use fear to prevent change is not productive and it is NOT patriotic - it is quite the opposite.
Gierow is a 1973 graduate of Tell City High School.