Medical Privacy

…One big aspect of Italy’s national health system that I forgot to mention previously: it’s available to EVERYBODY. There’s no nonsense like asking for insurance information while you’re bleeding in the emergency room (they do ask for your national health card, but if you don’t happen to have it on you, no one cares). And there’s no such thing as being uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions. You’re in the system and you get treated, period. Quite a few people not in the system, i.e. illegal immigrants, also get treated.

I met a guy once in Austin, Texas, who was undergoing an extremely expensive experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis. He could not change jobs, because that would force a change in insurer, and no new insurer would take him on, knowing they’d have to take on that expense. There is something very wrong with this picture. You can only be insured if you’re healthy?

This ties in with the privacy concerns that Brin addresses. Medical records stored in electronic format can be hacked into and viewed by people other than our doctors. One risk is that a company might decline to hire you after learning about an expensive medical condition that they wouldn’t want their insurance to have to cover. In America this is a legitimate fear; your career mobility and life could be ruined by leaked information. The answer to this is the Italian (and British, and Canadian, and…) one: a national health system, where you’re covered no matter what you’ve got.

Out Sick: Being Ill in Italy

You haven’t heard from me in a while (and I may not be very coherent today) because I’ve been seriously ill for two weeks now, with a lung infection that came on during a nasty flu. I’m now doing a course of injected antibiotics (the oral ones didn’t make a dent); let’s hope that works. I am really bored of being mostly in bed, though perhaps it’s fortunate that I’ve also been too tired to mind it too much.

This gives me occasion to reflect on something that works very well in Italy: the public health system. I don’t understand everything about it, and the details change from time to time, but here’s what it looks like from one patient’s perspective: