I tend to avoid this discussion both because I understand that there is a wide spectrum of opinions on the subject and because I realized I am blessed in my health care situation. While my health care is not free, I will continue paying the same premiums (family or single) as I did when my husband was living. In other words, I have "really good" health insurance. No cobra, no self pay. I pay two hundred dollars a month for a family insurance policy, and would be one hundred dollars a month without my college student. Yes, believe me, I do know.
Even with what most would consider reasonable, good, health insurance, I recently had some serious sticker shock. As a matter of fact I was completely appalled and alarmed. This was the first time I had been seen in the United States in an emergency or hospital situation and I was unprepared for the result. Some of you may remember my stress attack before the holidays when I was trying to get my house ready to sell. I am so completely laid back and unfamiliar with stress (grief yes, stress no) that I did not recognize the systems and identified them as a possible heart attack. Once I was in the hospital that was ruled out before I got comfortable, but you know how it is. Tests to be sure, stress tests because one is over fifty and over weight. The end result is that for less than two days of hospital care, my billed cost was $19000. Yes, you read correctly. Ten percent of which is my cost.
That is almost exactly the same billed amount as my husband's care for his entire cancer experience in Germany! That care included multiple hospital stays. It included surgery, radiology, chemotherapy, and two experimental chemo procedures. His care included more morphine patches than I care to think about now, as well as hospice care and in home nursing care. He was treated by the chief of the Frankfurt University Oncology department, and had a private room most of the time. We are NOT part of the German government system, but outside users who paid and then were reimbursed by our insurance company.
To me the problem is less about who pays, or even who manages. The problem is one of covering EVERYONE and keeping costs at bay. Eventually we all pay, whether we call it a tax, mandatory insurance or some other made up name. The difference in cost was not paid for by some mythical agency somewhere. We paid the entire cost of all of our care, when we were billed. As a result of costs like this, the German health care system had almost a six billion dollar surplus in 2012-that's a lot of medical care and research money with which to invest.
NO health care system is perfect, Lord knows. In Germany there are people who get private insurance on top of government insurance. There are certainly some things done in other countries including Germany that we would consider infringing on our rights or, heaven knows, "socialism" (an economic principle, not a governing one). In Germany, every working person below a certain pay grade has a flat percentage of his or her income put into the health care pot, as do self employed persons. People who make more can opt into the government system, or get private insurance. Long term care contributions are mandatory (gasp). In theory, some folks would consider these mandatory payments a tax, I know. The Germans decided otherwise, and do so on a regular basis.
While I don't know all of the cost cutting measures in Germany, I do know some of the huge differences. I expect that if we want to get past current costs, we are going to have to get past our fear of government and go with the flow. To me, some of these are common sense solutions are below-along with a couple basic rights issue that we need to get past in this country:
- In Germany the employer does not get to decide whether you deserve health insurance, and as the other side of that coin, you are free to work less than forty hours doing manual labor, knowing that you have coverage. For the record, German employers HAVE to provide accident insurance to all.
- To the employers benefit and overall cost reduction, the employer does not have a "health care" administrator or administrators. as part of their staff. The money is taken and sent to the managing agency. Employers don't have open season staff or persons whose job is to keep records or contact medical agencies
- When I went in the hospital I took my own medications and used them. The nurses just noted what they were and how often I took them. A doctor did not have to be called for an antacid. I was also able to bring my own food or have it brought from home as long as I was not on a special diet.
- Except for post surgical open back gowns, I was EXPECTED to bring my own towel and shower supplies. No little basket with goodies that I was charged for later.
- There is a whole different level of malpractice insurance and attendant costs. This one is probably worth a page in itself.
- Charges and fees for many things, including physician payments, are controlled. This does not mean there are no millionaire doctors, I went to one....just that the fees charged are based on education, skill, medical journal writing and a whole host of other factors. There is a consortium which include physicians groups who adjust fees annually.
- While there are exceptions, seeing a specialist is not dependent on making an appointment with your GP first-and insurance approval prior to the visit is not necessary. It is assumed that I am an intelligent person, and if I decide I want to make an appointment with an ortho doctor to have shots in my knees that is fine. The same with the actually injection. No one is paid to contact the insurance company and see if I qualify or am approved for treatment.
- Most doctors are hospital doctors or office doctors, not both. No prestige difference, just a choice in how you want to work. There are some areas in this country where that is changing as well, from what I have seen since my return.. Hospital doctors do not need to keep outside practices or staff. I went to a Gyn, who referred me to a hospital Gyn for my D and C. My husband saw the chief of the Oncology department at Frankfurt university all during his illness-always in the hospital.
- Because everyone receives care and is allowed to take off work to get care, the emergency staff only deals with true emergencies. When I first moved to Germany I dropped the loose, heavy, wooden piece of a bakers rack shelf on my finger (don't ask, I thought it was attached). There were no small children with runny noses or fevers, no illness that obviously should have been taken care of at the doctor's office. Just crushed fingers, broken bones and worse.
- Self care and responsibility, along with what I guess one would call traditional methods are encouraged-for lack of a better expression. In other words, before you go to the doctor for a cough and sore throat you should have tried tea with lemon, vitamin c and staying in bed for a day. And antibiotics are prescribed as a last resort. I was prescribed knee massage long before I took drugs for arthritis (and still do it)
- If you are sick, you are expected to stay home. Period. From school, from work. If you have to ask if you are contagious you probably are (except when you have my annual seal bark). Your doctor will give you a note if required and it is sacrosanct
- Most importantly, a huge amount of the bloated paperwork issue is put aside. In Germany, my health care card had a chip on it. After treatment by any doctor, new information would be added. Any doctor could look at my medical history on the chip. The chances of missing a conflicting treatment were almost none. No medical records clerks sitting in the hospital basement, or piles of files.
Some of these adjustments would be easy, some would be difficult. Some would offend some Americans ideas of "privacy". At some point though, in my opinion, we are going to have to make similar changes or costs are going to be out of control. Oh, and you'll notice one other thing. There is no mention of insurers-other than the lack of them-above. I wonder if all the folks who are so afraid of government management really think the insurance folks are doing some great job now?
A month ago, I went and had a mammogram-at a place I have had it for the last five years. I had to fill out paperwork for five minutes (including saying that I had a living will at home, acknowledging my financial responsibility and who knows what else. The next day I had to go back for a sonogram followup. I had to fill out the exact same paperwork as I had done before, less than twenty four hours later. The last breast exam I had in Germany included a mammogram and a sonogram. All I did was make my appointment and take my medical card. The billed cost was less than one fourth-and did not include separate bills for hospital, Xray, and the doctor reading the Xray
Which way makes more sense, I wonder?