I was at a friend’s birthday party a few weeks back, and found myself squirreled away in the corner talking to a cardiac surgeon from Denmark about the state of our healthcare system in the United States. I was frankly tired of debating the topic with many Americans who have never had the opportunity to live overseas, and experience nationalized healthcare first hand, and I was looking for a new perspective.
My Danish friend made three main points:
- Free healthcare is cheaper than making people pay (in the long run).
- Medical school should be affordable for anyone who wants to go.
- Once people see the value of the services, they are willing to pay higher taxes for it.
He told me a story about how healthcare in Denmark had been absolutely free at one time. Then the hospitals decided to start charging something like $20 a visit. This one change had a disatrous result. Why? Because some of the main customers at the ER had been addicts. Normally, they would come in immediately when they started getting infections around their injection sites. The doctors would see them, hand out antibiotics, and send them on their way.
When the ER started charging $20 the addicts stopped coming in, that is, until they were so sick they had to. So instead of just handing out antibiotics for minor infections, the addicts were now being admitted to the ICU for raging infections that had been left unchecked, all because they didn’t want to spend the $20.
We talked about the ridiculously high cost of medical school here, and how exclusive it is. In Denmark they pay you to go to medical school. They pay your tuition and give you a monthly allowance. If you have the smarts, you can attend medical school.
And lastly we talked about the tax rate in Denmark, which can be as high as 60%. When Danes were asked if they would pay higher taxes for better healthcare, the majority said they would.
When I lived in Finland for a year as a teenager I noticed something: the elderly were carefree, healthy and happy. They knew they were going to be taken care of by their national healthcare system when they retired. They knew they would never bankrupt their families with a terminal illness. They knew they’d have a place to live among their peers that would provide them everything they needed, to enjoy their sunset years.
Those without healthcare in the United States live in a constant state of fear and uncertainty. One major illness could send any one of us into bankruptcy, whether we have healthcare or not. It is time for America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, to grow up and take care of its people before it’s too late.