Health Care is a Human Right: Our Continued Work to Universal Health Care

As Americans living in over 90 countries around the world, we have the unique opportunity of viewing our home country from the context of a foreign lens, and the vast majority of our members have had experience with health care in our adopted countries.

For many, it is a relief to live in countries that prioritize medical care as a basic human right. And it is for this reason that we have long advocated for affordable health care solutions in the United States for our friends, families, and even our future selves.

We’ve asked our members to share their own health care experiences. While many have dealt with the pain and anguish of America’s increasingly troubled health care system, many have also had the benefit of a different experience; of knowing that no system is perfect, but that it is possible for a nation to care for the health of citizens, residents and even guests. Our host countries recognize that healthy citizens are those that are free to contribute and grow healthy societies that build better communities.

These are our some of our members’ stories:  

Emergency lifesaving treatment as a student in Canada

When I was 18 during my freshman year at the University of Toronto I started to have really strong, constant stomach pain and vomiting. It was really frightening and for two days the doctors didn't know what was wrong with me as it worsened. It turned out my appendix had exploded, but because they couldn't see my appendix on their instruments they hadn't known what was wrong. I spent a week in hospital, had life-saving surgery, and was readmitted once with a residual infection. Even outside of in-hospital procedures, one post-surgery medication alone cost almost $1000 per bottle; if I lived in the United States, I would have had to pay for that out of pocket, and I couldn’t have paid for it. If I didn't live in Canada I might not have been able to afford to be alive. 

My whole extended family is full of stories of life-threatening situations that are treated simply and at no cost; from cancer and thyroid problems, to autoimmune diseases and mental illness. As a dual citizen of both Canada and the US, I can really see the difference between the two countries. Ill health comes for everyone, and a country that takes care of its people is one that provides health care for all. I would like my American family to be cared for just like I am here. — Miranda Alksnis

 

More than 20 years of satisfying coverage in the UK

I have lived in the United Kingdom since 1995. I’ve had two children here. They’re both fully vaccinated. My maternity care included pre-natal classes and follow-up visits after the children were born. My eight-year-old daughter’s emergency appendectomy included a place for me to stay with her for most of a week. Both children have had braces. We’ve had a run-in with Lyme disease. I’ve had cervical cysts removed twice. The list goes on and on. 

The care we’ve received has been first rate. I can get an appointment on the same day for non-emergency care. Yes, I pay for this service in my taxes. No, it is not an unreasonable cost. I can visit any country in the European Union and expect the same level of care. 

For all its flaws, the system is fantastic. I am privileged to be covered and extremely grateful. My husband, daughter and son have LITERALLY had their lives saved by the NHS. I would be a childless widow without their expertise. And there has never been a bill for any of it. I am self-employed. As I approach retirement age, I have to face the hard reality that I will never be able to move back to the United States because I will not be able to afford the health care. Please, please help fix this broken system for all the generations to come. — Elizabeth Gatland

 

An emergency experience in Hong Kong

About a year and a half ago, my then-boyfriend (now husband) was out for a bachelor party in one of Hong Kong's nightlife districts. As he walked down the street, a crazed man ran by brandishing a broken glass bottle, which cut my husband's arm quite severely. He was taken by ambulance to a public hospital, where he waited several hours to be seen. He ended up staying in the hospital for a few nights, awaiting exploratory surgery to ensure no glass was embedded in his arm and no nerves were damaged. Thankfully, the eventual surgery went well and he has had no complications to date. 

Although I was shocked that my husband had to wait hours/days at various points during his treatment, I believe he received a high quality of care, especially considering the cost. Upon leaving the hospital, he paid only about $50 to cover the entire experience. Subsequently, he needed to go for check-up visits to have his dressings changed, with charges around $2 per visit. Hong Kong has a combination of public and private health systems, and I am very grateful that the public option here is extremely affordable and accessible, otherwise my husband's experience could've been much more costly. — Sydney

 

$30,000 in the U.S. vs. €10 in Germany

While I was in college Ohio, I had a severe staph infection and had to be hospitalized for nearly a month, with three weeks of further outpatient care. I had a student health care plan, but the insurance company denied payment because of pre-existing conditions I have had since birth. I wound up owing the hospital nearly $30,000. 

Fast forward three years. I am laying in a hospital in Germany for a month, and have only been insured for 10 months. I paid only €10 a day for care and treatment rivaling that which I received in the US. I also suffer from allergies, asthma, and a progressive eye disease and require constant medical aid, which is only affordable through universal health care. Thanks to Germany’s fair and stable universal health care system, I can work steadily and enjoy life with my family.  

 

We're having a baby

Thanks to exceptional healthcare in the Netherlands, my husband and I were able to start the family we always wanted. We were able to take advantage of our time abroad and go through the IVF process from start to finish with doctors visits, prescriptions, countless ultrasounds, and embryo transfer all completely covered by our insurance. We paid next to nothing out of pocket compared to the astronomical sum (tens of thousands of dollars) for this treatment in the US.

 

Cancer coverage in Switzerland

Cancer sucks, but cancer in Switzerland does not bankrupt you and does not require a masters degree in bureaucracy and insurance codes, despite offering BETTER treatment than in the US. As a second generation cancer survivor (my mom had breast cancer in the US, I got it while living here) I can compare the level of care, the medicines used, and the burden of paperwork — which is almost nonexistent here — and I would never want to go back to the US system. — Kay

 

A blessing beyond measure

I can't sing the praises of universal health care enough. When I immigrated to Canada I was pregnant. I went from paying for each prenatal visit and not knowing how I'd pay for the delivery, to free prenatal care both from my family doctor and the local health nurse. Free hospitalization, even during a nursing strike, and free postnatal care. I had complications requiring a week stay in hospital. I paid nothing. 

Now over 30 years later my family and I never worry about how we are going to afford health care nor health care premiums. In my province, the poor pay no premiums. We choose a doctor of our choice, not limited to any one HMO plan. My son requires ongoing specialist care which is completely free. We have no problem with a lower quality service due to his lack of income (disability pension only). He sees the same specialists as everyone else. 

I hear from my family in the US about their worries about health care in both quality and cost. I have a sister who had to refinance her home just to afford the deductible for a surgery. I have never had to worry about obtaining or affording quality health care since residing in Canada. It's a blessing beyond measure. 

 

Great ongoing treatment for chronic condition

I have ulcerative colitis, a chronic autoimmune disease. Since moving to Germany I have had several flare-ups, including a few that have landed me in the hospital. In one instance, I ended up in the hospital for 15 days and needed 3 blood transfusions. Because my German public health insurance is so wonderful, the entire hospital stay - transfusions, medications and IV drips, food, and everything else - cost me only €150. That's €10 a day.

I also have to take daily medication for my disease. In the US, I had to pay for those pills up front until I hit my deductible. A three-month supply cost about $1,500. Because of my insurance, I only pay €10 for a two-month supply, but the full price of the medication here is still only around $200. Germany, like many other countries, regulates what pharmaceutical companies can charge. They aren't allowed to jack up the price to a point where people can't afford the medicine that keeps them alive. 

No one should have to sacrifice their health or die because they can't afford healthcare services. Even with insurance, lengthy hospital stays in the US can bankrupt a person. I'm so happy to have this kind of health insurance and that getting the treatment I needed was so affordable. — Ali Garland

 

Hit by a car while rollerblading

I live in France but spend a lot of time in Austria. Ten years ago, I was side-swiped by a car while rollerblading and my right arm was severely injured -- I couldn't use it for a year. The treatment involved an ambulance, emergency care followed by six hours of surgery, a two-week hospital stay in Austria, check-ups by my French orthopedic surgeon upon my return to France, lots and lots of pain killers AND ten years of weekly physical therapy. My co-pay was less than €100 total.

 

Having a baby in Spain

I experienced my entire pregnancy and birth in Spain. I used private insurance, but it's only €30 per month and €3 per appointment because it is subsidized. Other than that, absolutely everything has been free, from appointments with obstetricians and/or midwives at least once per month, an ultrasound offered at every appointment and a Tdap vaccine, to labor, delivery and a 48-hour hospital stay. It would not have cost any more had there been complications during labor. 

My care is top-notch, and I'm so glad I was able to have my baby in Spain rather than in the US, which would have left me buried in debt. I have also visited two doctors, a nurse and two midwives in the public system and have experienced minimal wait times and excellent, thorough care. 

Here they practice preventative medicine. Of course there are trade-offs. I pay more taxes. It takes longer to go for blood tests and wait times for non-emergency surgeries are long. But I'd take the Spanish system over the US one, no contest.

 

A veteran and cancer survivor

I am an Army Veteran who moved with my wife to Sweden following the completion of my service. It was while living here that I was diagnosed with cancer. Recently unemployed and with an infant at home, the news was initially devastating. However, the Swedish medical system not only treated me with incredible care and expediency, they did so completely without cost to myself. 

I am now three years cancer free and well into my five year treatment plan. I have had many, MANY MRI’s, CAT Scans and other diagnostic treatments that would have likely been prohibitively expensive in the US. I have often reflected as to what would have happened had I faced the same situation in the States. I honestly can’t think of a way that it wouldn’t have bankrupted my family, setting us back years if not permanently keeping us in poverty. However, because I had the fortune to be treated in a country with universal health care I am now happy and healthy. 

I am currently pursuing a degree (free of charge) and my family is in a good way. Because the country I live in decided to invest in people and not insurance corporations I have been given the opportunity to not only survive but thrive. I urge every member of Congress to invest in the American people and to serve them like I did during my eight years of military service. Please, this is more important than politics and more important than money, this is people’s lives. Please vote down the draconian healthcare reforms being pushed right now and stand with the American people and help ensure that no American is forced to choose between health care and being able to provide for their families.

 

Our stories and countries may be varied, but we share a common thread: we believe that health care is a human right. 

Send us your story at http://www.democratsabroad.org/healthcare_stories 

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