Monday, February 6, 2012

An Italian Family's Story With Universal Health Care

The debate rages on in the US regarding universal health care, whether or not it is a good idea, potential horror stories that could come of it and whether or not the American people want it. I can only speak from my own experience, and I know that there will be those good old italians ready to lynch me for daring to tell a story involving modern day Italy that doesn't induce eye-rolling and disgust, but I'm not going to repeat any chinese whispers. This is what happened to me and my family.

I recently came back from 5 years in Dublin where my health was seriously neglected, not having the money time contacts or care to have check-ups. This meant that I came back to Italy with a to-do list I intended completing. I moved to a new city, got my new health card and got to choose my family doctor from a very long list. Not knowing any I picked one that practiced near my house and proceeded to show up Saturday morning to get my shit sorted. I was greeted by quite an old lady, which initially was concerning but she was perfectly lovely and I later figured that to graduate from the boy's club that is medicine in her day must have meant she wasn't all bad. I reeled off the list of things that I needed and she proceeded to writing me a prescription for getting my moles checked, having an x-ray of my teeth done and an extraction of my right wisdom tooth which was periodically giving me grief.

I called the skin clinic and asked for an appointment to check my moles. Three days later I parked my bike out front, had my check-up, chatted with the doctor, paid my 25euro "ticket" fee (for people who earn more than 1,000 euro a month but less than 19,000 a year,over which the price is increased to 30) which is a fee that applies to non-emergency visits, fourty minutes later I way biking to work. I showed up at the hospital the next day to make an appointment for my x-rays, which they gave me for the next day. On both occasions they sent me and email the day before my appointment in order to remind me of the time.

A few days later my non-citizen non-resident boyfriend sliced his finger open at work. I went with him to the emergency room where he got an initial check up, an x-ray to make sure the bone in his finger was not damaged, 9 stitches in the pad of his finger in the plastic surgery department, a copy of his x-ray to bring home and a prescription for three more visits  to check on how it was healing and to take out the stitches, all taking a total of 5 1/2 hours. Since he was hurt at work he paid 0 euro for this.

My then 86 year old grandmother was diagnosed with breat cancer. Although she has the money to go private she found a good public hospital in Rome and decided to go there. Despite the fact that cancer spreads very slow in the elderly they removed the tumor and gave her radiation treatments to get rid of every last scrap of it, and have been giving her yearly checkups since then though they don't expect it to come back in a woman her age. She also paid 0 euro for these treatments.

Last year my father went to the emergency room with a bad stomach ache. They found he had a perforated intestine and had to operate on him immediately. Once in they found he had a gigantic tumor in his intestine, so they had to remove it and deviate his colon until a later date when they could fix him up again. He was in the hospital for ten days, and a nurse from the hospital had to visit him once every few days for the first weeks he was at home, checking on the wound and showing him how to take care of himself. He later had the second operation to put his colon back together and stayed in the hospital for another week. He also paid 0 euro for these procedures.

I called up the dental clinic and they gave me my appointment for a month and a half later. Once there they looked at my scans, gave me a check up and told me that my wisdom teeth had come in fully, they were perfectly straight and that the periodic pain I was feeling was coming from an inflamed gum. They gave me a mouthwash to use and told me that if the inflammation goes away but I still have trouble with the tooth to give them a call and skip ahead slightly in the line to get them removed. I paid 20 euro for this visit. If I was to remove my wisdon tooth privately it would cost me 230 euro.

So that's my story. I'm not going to pretend that the Italian system is anywhere close to perfect. There are people, especially those living in more rural areas, that have much longer waiting lists and therefore wind up doing their non-emergency-room things privately. There are areas with administrative corruption problems that have sub-par hospitals. Here there is the option to have private health insurance and there are fine private hospitals. What you should ask yourself during this debate is is my story that bad? Does having the public option sound like something that would make the people living in your country worse off than they are now?

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