Americans’ Phobia of Socialized Medicine

I am baffled by the people I encounter in this country who think that “socialized medicine” is evil. I’m not sure how they arrive at this conclusion. It seems that, for some, anything they can label “socialist” is automatically frightening. But we have state-run fire and police departments and military (among many other things), and the vast majority of Americans would agree that these areas of common human endeavor are best run by government.

Why, therefore, do so many instantly discard the idea that governments can effectively provide health care? Other countries’ governments are managing national health systems quite well. Do we have so little faith in the abilities of our own government?

I’ve seen socialized medicine working for my own family. I lived in Italy for 17 years (my Italian husband is still there), and have written about my (mostly positive) experiences with Italy’s national health system.

My father lives in England with his British wife, and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has done very well by them. Just a few weeks ago, Dad had a $60,000 operation – paid for by the British government, and he’s not even a citizen! – to implant an electronic device which interrupts pain signals from his body to his brain: a last-ditch remedy for ten years of extreme, chronic pain due to arthritis. And it’s working.

In Italy, my mother-in-law had a mastectomy within days of a tumor being discovered, and her chemotherapy and related medications were free. When our daughter broke her arm, a compound fracture requiring surgery, the surgery, hospital stay, and follow-up care were free. When I had my own cancer scares, all the tests were done within days, and I paid less than 100 euros for the biopsy. I’ve been under treatment for glaucoma for years; with my doctor’s prescription in Italy, the medicine costs 2 euros a month.

Because health care is universal in these countries, medical privacy need not be a huge concern: you’re going to get treated, no matter what you’ve got. Whereas, in the US, you must jealously guard information about any chronic or genetic condition you may have, for fear that it will damage your chances for employment and insurance.

The Problem of Choice

Some Americans fear that a government-run health system would limit their choices, which is likely true. But is that such a bad thing? Too much choice can be as bad as too little, especially when it requires so much time and knowledge to understand what’s on offer and make an informed decision.

One of the most difficult transitions for me in moving back to the US has been precisely this. I’m an intelligent and highly-educated person, but simply comprehending my health insurance options (and, thank Sun, I have options!) has been largely beyond me so far. I have insurance, but that’s about all I know, pending further study that I haven’t had time for. I can imagine how overwhelming this must seem to someone much younger (or older) and/or less experienced than I.

In Italy, things are a lot simpler. You choose a family doctor from a limited list of local practitioners, most likely someone whose office is convenient to your home. When you’re sick, you visit that doctor during his/her office hours (some by appointment, some you just sit around and wait). If you need a specialist or tests, the family doctor writes an authorization and you schedule an appointment, which will be available later or sooner depending on how busy your local providers are and how urgent your medical situation is. I once scheduled a routine mammogram 8 or 10 months in advance, but when I needed one in a hurry for a suspicious lump, it was performed within 24 hours. (NB: Bi-annual mammograms are free for all women over 45. Socialized health systems are big on preventive medicine, because it makes economic sense.)

And if you want choice in Italy, you can pay out of your own pocket to go to whatever practitioner you like.

Of course, no system is perfect. Malpractice can happen anywhere. My father-in-law was probably killed in Italy by an anesthesiologist too old to be administering an epidural. My aunt’s botched hiatal hernia operation (in Austin, Texas) led to ten years of agony and, eventually, her death. Malpractice suits are rare in Texas, so she never got the money needed to help fix what the doctor screwed up. Penny-pinching by the Medicare system (America’s version of national health, available only to the elderly and used only by those who have no choice) likely exacerbated her problems and also contributed to her death. Being poor and uninsured limits your choices far more than a national health system does.

Given all this, I don’t understand why so many Americans have such a knee-jerk negative reaction to nationalizing health care. Can anyone explain this to me?

11 thoughts on “Americans’ Phobia of Socialized Medicine

  1. Mike Richter

    Americans fear any aspect of socialized medicine because their physicians – in general – have promoted the term to one step shy of “liberal”.

    Some of us on Medicare regard it as a blessing, not a necessity and certainly not a curse. I have several physicians, some of whom accept no primary insurance program except Medicare; they all have medical and personal philosophies I find congenial.

    Mike

  2. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    I’m very glad Medicare is working for you. I had grave doubts about how my aunt was treated; though they treated her well in the hospital those very necessary hospital stays always seemed to end rather too hastily for her to have really recovered from the immediate crisis.

  3. John Helm

    It’s typical in the US to keep hospital care short. Part is economical but also studies have shown that people recover quicker at home. While we could afford it we had Kaiser in California an HMO which is very close to the Italian system. We felt it was great when my wife had problems with our first child they kept her in the hospital for 5 weeks.

    I too have had great health care in the Italian system. In fact I also had a very expensive surgery using the latest technology.

  4. Brian Timares

    Dad had a $60,000 operation – paid for by the British government…
    In Italy, my mother-in-law had a mastectomy within days of a tumor being discovered, and her chemotherapy and related medications were free. When our daughter broke her arm, a compound fracture requiring surgery, the surgery, hospital stay, and follow-up care were free. When I had my own cancer scares, all the tests were done within days, and I paid less than 100 euros for the biopsy. I’ve been under treatment for glaucoma for years; with my doctor’s prescription in Italy, the medicine costs 2 euros a month.

    Part of the problem, a large part, is that your figures are off.

    Adjust them to reflect the correct cost and where the money comes from (not just “the British government”) and you’ll see a large part of what Americans don’t want in socialized medicine.

  5. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    Please explain where my figures are off. FYI, I looked up my glaucoma medication on my US insurance provider’s website. The sticker price here is around $80, with insurance co-pay it’ll cost me about $13. In India, I bought it over the counter for about $5.

  6. Motocross Helmets

    Living in Gibraltar where Healthcare is state based, it has its advantages and disadvantages. The care provided is excellent, however it if overburdened and sometimes slow due to the sheer number of people it can cater for. I reckon state run healthcare in the US could work, however like the NHS it would be an enormous drain on the economy.

  7. Janet F. Truelove

    Why most Americans close their minds to the word “socialized” medicine is beyond me…it’s as if the very word denotes “communism” or a plague that will kill them. Not knowing very much about socialized medicine and having an inquiring mind, I certainly wish to learn more about it. From what I do know, it seeks to care for every human being equally. That alone impresses me. I feel sorry for those who choose to remain ignorant of what might just be a good thing for them. I intend to learn all I can with an “open mind.”

  8. guest

    Did you know that in America there’s a group of some 14,000 doctors who call themselves “Physicians for a National Health Program”?They tell us that the number of uninsured Americans,even those making more than $75,000 annually and is growing every year.They also tell that “the only solution to the rising number of uninsured is a single-payer national health insurance program, publicly financed but delivered by private doctors and hospitals. Such a program could save more than $400 billion annually in administrative waste, enough to provide high quality coverage for all.

  9. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    Yes, and most of that $10 is taxes which can be used for things like public transport so that people CAN use cars less and therefore spend less time in traffic and generate less pollution. I’m all for it. I would rather know that a certain percentage is taken out of my salary for guaranteed universal heatlh care, than have to be afraid that if I lose my job I will be unable to afford insurance, and also know that many, many others can’t afford it.

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