Health Care Worries

October 13, 2009

Just a few words here on health care worries in this country as opposed to others—say Sweden and Great Britain specifically.

I have clients all over the world, who educate me on different perspectives, quite without meaning to.

In this country, a health care crisis in the family ALWAYS means financial pressure, if not a full-blown financial crisis.   This is so pervasive that we are quite unable to think in terms of health crises without thinking financial crisis.

Recently a young man from Sweden called me with concerns about the financial crisis he was experiencing.  He mentioned how difficult the past year had been, including the multiple bypass surgery of his unusually young father.   I sympathized with him on his father’s health and the additional financial pressure this must have brought to him.    His reaction was total surprise.   He said there was no financial burden at all—it was all covered by national health.  He was concerned about his father’s health, and it was a stressful year, but his father has recovered now and is doing better than he had been for years.   He just mentioned it because it was an emotional stress.

I was shocked!   In this country a family with limited resources would have been bankrupted by a multiple bypass episode (if, indeed, they even managed to get the surgery… chances are they would have just waited for the heart attack to kill the father).  But this man was solely concerned about his father’s health.  Not the financial life-or-death of the family.

What a Dickensian world we live in.   (Where is Charles Dickens now, when we need him!)  We could write story after story of families remortgaging homes, falling behind, being thrown out on the streets in futile attempts to pay for medical care to save the life of a parent, or a child.   I had been so immersed in this Dickensian culture that the very idea that a dire health crisis would have no effect on an impoverished family was inconceivable to me until my client pointed it out.

I have had clients from England with similar stories… total freedom from financial catastrophe caused by medical expenses.  I know this freedom exists in ALL the industrialized countries of the world except for ours.   And yet I was still so embedded in our cultural assumption that WE have the best of everything here that I was shocked when my clients, in their intimate and personal tales of worry were entirely free of the fear of the catastrophic effects of getting life-saving health care.

My god—when are we going to wake up!


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