Healthcare Stories

Health care stories from abroad

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their universal health care story. As you can see from the very many stories in the pages below, many Americans living abroad feel strongly about this issue. We believe that our stories will make a difference by showing the many sides of universal healthcare - from an average check up, to a hospital stay, to stories about our lives being saved thanks to universal health care.

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We'll share these stories with Congress to help in their fight for affordable healthcare for all Americans. 
Please note that the stories below are all user submited and reflect individual opinions. 

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Emergency lifesaving treatment as a student in Canada #DAresists #Medicare4all

When I was 18 during my freshman year at UofT, 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 and 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 when there was residual infection from the pus that had filled my abdomen. And even outside of the in-hospital procedures, there was one post-surgery medication that 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 out of pocket. If I didn't live in Canada, I might not have been able to afford to be alive. And 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. Love, Miranda Alksnis


Brain Surgery NO BILL #DAresists #Medicare4all

Read it and weep USA citizens. My close relative had a headache that wouldn't go away. After a few weeks of trying to figure out what was going on she was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. The surgery was done by one of the best neurosurgeons on the planet. Mark Bernstein(Toronto). You might want to look him up. This in spite of the fact that as far as neurosurgery goes this was a relatively simple operation. The operation was scheduled VERY soon after diagnosis was made. (reports of wait times are B.S. as serious problems get triaged, and are expedited). The patient was in a great hospital, for about 4-5 days. I hate to think what this whole thing would have cost us in the USA. We however, because we live in a country with a heart, saw NO BILL. Parking cost more than any of the medical work. I am a self employed jazz musician, and I feel for all the great musicians all over the USA who depend on charity to get decent healthcare coverage. Come on USA, grow up, provide your citizens, ALL of them with SINGLE PAYER health insurance. The word socialism has NOTHING to do with this. Stop being so fearful. You are so behind the times. Do something! Made a full #DAresists #Medicare4all


Wonderful health care in France #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have never lived in France but for seven years my husband and I owned a second home in a small town in Provence. I have allergies to just about everything that blooms there, and one year I had a particularly bad time with wheezing, sneezing and coughing so I visited Dr. Issot, our village physician. He spoke some English, thankfully since my French vocab for medical terms is limited, and he spent about an hour with me, asking about my symptoms, listening to my chest, etc. The charge for the hour visit was about $25 US. I also received three prescriptions - for an inhaler, an antibiotic and an antihistamine, and the total at the local pharmacy was about $35 US. I shudder to think what this would have cost in the States. We have American friends who live in France full time and are on the French health care system, and they love it. They are elderly and have some health problems, and they have had physicians even come to their home to check on them. They say there's no comparison with the terrible health care we have in the States. I don't understand why the U.S. can't look at other systems around the world, cherry pick the best parts, and then come up with some universal health care that will work for all of us.


More than 50 years of great coverage in Israel #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am happy to share my story. I have lived in Israel 48 years counting my 1st year when I came on Sherut La'am in '65-'66. From the beginning, whenever I had health care needs they were taken care of by the Israel healthcare system. My anemia was properly treated enabling me to have children. Maternal and child health was marvelous! Hospitalization was covered. Child and adult immunizations were and are covered. As my children got older 2 of them developed mental illnesses. Thanks to our system, both of them are being treated. It allows them to work and be self supporting and pay taxes and have full lives. Two of my children have attended university. Again it is due to our government subsidizing higher education and making it affordable. They work part time and I have been able to swing the rest. My husband developed cancer in 1999. My only out of pocket expenses came to $35 a month. Even on my nurses' salary I could manage that and keep the family supported. Now I am retired. I became ill with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis 2 years ago. From the beginning from diagnosis to care I have been able to afford to buy medications and eat. The state provided me with a caretaker for 8 months of that first year until I could manage to take care of myself. There is always room for improvement in any system, but I am so grateful to be here in Israel and not in the US. I vote absentee in Texas, Federal offices only. I write my senators and representative all the time but needless to say they are Republicans and really do not care what happens to people. Still all the rest of my family is in Texas so I keep writing. Wishing all of you a Shana Tova u'metuka. Sincerely, Shoshana Katz


18 month old daughter with severe case of bronchiolitis #DAresists #Medicare4all

My daughter was 18 months old and had been suffering from congestion for about a week. I didn't think much of it until she woke up one night and I noticed that she was having labored breathing. She laid still in her crib, her chest collapsing. She wasn't crying so it was clearly evident that something was wrong. We immediately took her to the hospital where she was admitted immediately. We spent 3 days in the hospital, the first night being the most intense. She was connected to an IV, had a catheter, and had to wear an oxygen mask. Every few hours the nurses came in to administer her dose of steroids. They bathed her and did their best to keep her from crying. It was difficult to watch because she was just a baby and was being pricked by needles and forced to endure other scary moments that would be difficult even for adults to handle. After a few days, she was cleared to go home. When they handed us the paperwork we weren't quite sure what to do. The nurses looked at us like we were crazy because we just stood there waiting to be handed some kind of bill. Prior to this, I don't think I really had a strong opinion because I had never had an experience to know otherwise. However, from that day on, I feel very adamant about socialized healthcare. The pediatricians, pediatric nurses, and ER staff provided excellent care. Had this happened in the United States, we would have had to have paid a few thousand dollars, not taking into account the medicine that was required afterward either. Her nebulizer and salbutomal inhaler, together, cost less than €20. This is just one example, but I have many others. Both my children were born in Spain so we have numerous experiences dealing with the healthcare system. No parent, or anyone for that matter, should have to worry about the cost of medical treatment when it comes to the health of a loved one.


Health Care refugees in Germany #DAresists #Medicare4all

With health care under attack in the United States, we are now having to come to grips with Americans living abroad becoming health care exiles, not only because of pre-existing conditions, but because of quality and cost of health care overall. Jim and Jane P. are both health care exiles. They moved to Germany for work twenty years ago (while in their 50’s) and decided to retire here. However, like many Americans, most of their assets are in the United States as well as their home. While they are proud Americans, they cannot live there. Four years after retiring, Jane was diagnosed with Castleman’s Disease, a rare autoimmune disease affecting the lymph system. They were informed that there were just 2 specialists in the world who could help, one being a German-trained Dutch doctor in Little Rock, Arkansas. The German health care law states that if they cannot treat a disease in Germany, they have to send you where it can be treated. The German system paid for both to go to the U.S. (flight and accommodation) and Medicare paid for the 3-month hospital stay. According to U.S. regulations, Jane could not stay more than 3 months in the hospital as her treatment could technically be done as out-patient. While the cost of the experimental drug was $10, the cost of administering was $10,000 (due to profit and malpractice insurance) per treatment. Jim and Jane would have had to pay this out-of-pocket had they stayed in the U.S. after the 3 months. They returned to Germany where Jane went through two years of chemotherapy (total out-of-pocket excluding monthly insurance premiums was around €3,000 as opposed to an estimated $100-200K in the U.S.) Jane has been cancer-free for the past four years. Jim had a heart attack last year and needed a triple by-pass. His total out-of-pocket cost was €310 for ten days in hospital and three weeks in rehab. Prescription drugs for blood pressure are limited to €10 for a 3-month refill. Their monthly insurance premiums are 15.7% of their gross income with a cap in Germany of €700 per month. Jim is actively lobbying the Senate with his proposal for fully-funded healthcare. The response so far has been null, which means that we all need to step up our efforts to help our Congressmen and Senators understand that this is the “art of the possible” not a pipe dream.


Great experience in U.K. #DAresists #Medicare4all

When I lived in the US, I had medical care until I was 21 because my parents were working for the US military. After that, I had no medical coverage whatsoever until I managed to get a job with a company that was in an HMO network. Even then, I didn't want to see a doctor because of the co-pay and luckily I never had to go to the emergency room. Now, in the UK, I don't have to worry how much a doctor's visit will cost me. I can feel free to speak to a doctor about a mild pain I've had for years, or for a very bad migraine or illness. No, it's not perfect, but it's far better than what most people in the US have to deal with. Horror stories of people killing themselves because of medical bills don't exist in the UK. Cancer patients and car crash victims don't have huge bills that debilitate them for decades after surviving. Universal healthcare works!


Multiple Sclerosis in the UK #DAresists #Medicare4all

I've lived in the U.K. For fifteen years. Ten years ago my balance on my right side became strange so I booked an appointment with my GP. I was referred to a neurologist who then gave me numerous tests including an MRI, lumbar puncture, blood work and more appointments. Ultimately my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis was declared. Over the years I've received great care including regular consultant appointments, blood tests, MRI's, related dr appointments and prescriptions. All of the cost of these amounts to my yearly contribution of £170.00. I know this because being self employed I see what I pay when I register my taxes every year. The cost of prescriptions is £8.00 each which is very reasonable. Now that I claim disability allowance my prescription charge is 0. These prescriptions are not generic labels. Last year I opted for a new immunotherapy drug which cost me nothing. I'm told the cost of the drug is approximately £74,000.00. Because I've had that treatment , I now have monthly blood work, MS nurse appointments for the next three years all no cost to me. That's not to mention my usual bi annual neurologist appointment and an MRI every four month again, no cost to me. My illness is chronic. I've been told by friends who've gone through heart problems, cancer and other emergencies. They all receive care immediately and have excellent after care. I don't know where I'd be without the NHS and my main feeling about it is to be grateful. I watch my family in the States go through hoops of insurance, HMO's, PPO's, co pays and prescriptions costs that are soo high. When you are ill all these extra worries seem inhumane and cruel. I love the NHS. It does work. If everyone pays a little in, the system can work.


Obscene US prescription drug prices #DAresists #Medicare4all

Post-Obamacare, my $225/mo health insurance offered my branded birth control at $20/3-month supply, but it was always listed on my bill as a retail price of $350/3-month supply (without insurance). Great value, right? After marrying and moving to the UK, I went to the NHS to request birth control. I asked for the prescription I'd been using in the US on my health insurance. The NHS told me that this brand was not offered by the NHS in England as it is too price prohibitive on their system. Instead, they offered me other free options. To carry me over as I weighed my decision, I was told I could go direct to a local high street pharmacy and buy my desired product out-right without a prescription that day. I did that. The over-the-counter cost of this "expensive" product in the UK — without prescription or insurance? £40/3-month supply (roughly $52). Americans are being cheated with prescription drug prices, whether they pay for them out-of-pocket or through their high insurance premiums. If you imagine that £13.33/mo is too much to spend per UK patient on birth control, then the UK population is receiving the same pharmaceuticals being distributed in the US — but at a seriously lower cost. The US could be getting the same deal if we demanded regulation on extortionate profit margins.


A nation's choice... #DAresists #Medicare4all

I'm a US citizen living in Canada since 1983. Since the U.S. evokes God under whom it exists, a confidence that runs deep, I wish to contrast the U.S. and Canada in terms of bottomline... I too am a religious/spiritual person. The bottomline is this...which God does the U.S. of A choose to live under; the God of compassion or the god of mammon. You either reign in the health care industry gorging itself on profits - essentially profits wrapped in body bags or you apply universal compassion that undermines obscene profits where everyone has coverage - it's either one or the other. From what I know, both country's have waiting lines, my US friends like to point fingers...the difference is people up here wait in line to see a doctor, down there people wait to die. I love my country, my heart swells when I hear the anthem, but I am sickened by the lack of backbone of political leaders who continually sell their souls out to the "in god we trust" on a dollar bill. To my country, go the distance to be universally compassionate...


Talk radio strikes again! #DAresists #Medicare4all

It's frustrating when my friends living in the US - who have never lived outside the US - tell me about how poor healthcare is in the UK. In reality, the UK system beats the US hands-down. One weekend I experienced problems with vision in one eye. I called my local GP who said the problem could be serious (a detached retina) and get to the practice immediately. He had a look and referred me to the world-class London Eye Hospital. They saw me on Monday, diagnosed non sight-threatening vitreous detachment, and sent me home relieved. There was no bill. Think about how this would have been dealt with in the US, and what it would have cost.


Several experiences from many years in France #DAresists #Medicare4all

Aside from the usual and thankfully banal problems of bearing and raising three children, I can report on fairly major issues. NB: I also have a “mutuelle”—a collective non-profit complementary health arrangement that costs approx. €2000 a year and covers the 30% French social security doesn’t pay in some cases. Except in the last, worst item below I don’t remember which paid what. --A hard fall on cement the night before I was supposed to lecture in Oxford resulted in a hip replacement and hospitalisation for almost two weeks [Radcliffe Hospital] plus special transport arrangements home to Paris. French social security and probably the mutuelle reimbursed costs to the Brits. --Three fractured vertebrae and three “vertebroplasties” in which they inject resin cement: cost zero --Worst: in late 1999 my husband was diagnosed with a fairly rare form of cancer : He died a year and a half later after two operations, one very long and risky, intensive care, a whole variety of convalescent measures at home or in hospital, daily nursing visits when at home and, a particular blessing in the circumstances, he was able to spend the last two weeks of his life surrounded by his family at home, in a hospital bed with perfusion and three times daily visits from a nurse as well as regular ones from our family doctor. He could self-administer doses of morphine as needed and we were all with him when he died. Cost for us: Zero, entirely paid by French social security since he had a recognised “serious illness”. I sometimes tell this story now in talks to encourage the French and other Europeans to fight for all our public services, explaining to them we would have had to sell the house if we had lived in the United States. Since I have mentioned giving talks, it may be worth adding that after Smith College junior year abroad where I met and later married my French husband and living in France, I was able to win two higher degrees, a “licence” in philosophy, equivalent to a US master’s degree and allowing Immediate entry to the doctorate. Ten years later I got my PhD with honours in political science from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales, a quite prestigious part of the French university graduate schools system. Cost—about $150/year in today’s dollars for inscription and insurance fees. Comment: Totally impossible for me cost-wise had I lived in the US. With 17 books and innumerable talks, articles and interviews for various social / ecological/ political causes since, mostly without fee, I feel I have “given back”, as Americans like to say. Note: My four grandchildren have now graduated from a variety of excellent, highly recognised schools [except for some at masters’ level with modest tuition fees] in several disciplines and—barring global warming disaster—are set for life.


Healthcare in Canada #DAresists #Medicare4all

In British Columbia, Canada I pay $1,080 (about $830 US) per year for basic family health care, and my employer pays another $720. The employer also covers a plan through Blue Cross; for about $2500 I get extended health and dental care (for dental there is a user fee of about 20%). Total medical & dental insurance costs of $4,000 per year get us unlimited visits to our family doctor and specialists; no charge for hospitalization including a private room; subsidy for physiotherapy and other ancillary services; and 80% of our dental expenses. Our kids were covered up to age 21. We might have to wait 6 months for an MRI or orthopedic surgery, but we can pay privately for faster treatment. Low-income people get basic health care for free. There are no restrictions on pre-existing conditions and no caps. I remember going to the U.S. before Obamacare and seeing a jam jar in a restaurant raising money for some poor kid's heart surgery. Is this the future in America?


Healthcare for all #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am a dual US/Canadian citizen resident in Canada since 1978. Over those almost 40 years, I have experienced almost every aspect of universal health care, from moving provinces to GP checkups to minor surgery to emergency assessment for a mini-stroke. In every case I received prompt, caring service from our medical professionals, with no significant wait times. I can't speak highly enough of the experience, and I did not pay a single penny out of pocket. Alan Crook Kawartha Lakes, Ontario


It isn't just for the times you are sick #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have lived in the UK for ten years and have been fortunate to be healthy the majority of the time. But the security I feel in knowing that I can see my doctor even for small things (before they become big things) is something that doesn't get mentioned often enough. As a young person that doesn't make a lot of money, I would be in a very different position in the States, and wouldn't be able to address issues with my health until it was an emergency. Nobody should have to be put in that position. I have had the freedom to leave jobs without worrying about losing my benefits and losing access to healthcare, and the impact this has had on my well-being and mental health cannot be overstated. Obviously, there are so many more reasons why universal healthcare is the only system that makes sense!


Drug coverage in Ireland #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have a history of very early preterm labor. With an injection from 16 to 36 weeks, that risk of early labor and premature birth is minimized. When I was in the US a few years ago, this drug cost $1,500 per shot (so $30,000, before insurance). It was a big deal for me to find insurance that would cover it, and it involved possibly moving states--in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy. The same drug here in Ireland...I walked out of the pharmacy with all 20 doses for about $80. This drug helped me reach full term for two pregnancies. I hate to think about the parents in the US facing another NICU stay or loss of a child because this drug is prohibitively expensive. (It used to cost $10/dose in the US before the drug company hiked the price a few years ago.) -Jennie Sutton, Dublin, Ireland


My grandson's treatment #DAresists #Medicare4all

My grandson, who is now 11 years old and living in Montreal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 1 year old. This particular tumor does not metastasize, but it is life-threatening because as it grows in the brain it destroys other brain tissue. Especially in a child’s brain, it can be quite damaging. My grandson has been in active treatment for about six of his eleven years and under observation and monitoring for four years. Active treatment has included several kinds of chemotherapy and a 12-hour surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. Monitoring includes weekly appointments at the pediatric hospital for assessments including regular MRIs to track the tumor’s size, checks on his physical and cognitive development to assess the impact of the tumor on his brain, nutritional consultation given the impact of the chemotherapy on his appetite, etc. He has therefore had regular treatment by a large team of pediatric specialists. Total cost to his parents: nothing. Both his parents are musicians and could not have afforded private insurance that would have paid for this treatment. Throughout this, and except for the regular hospital visits, he has led a normal life. He is a charming and active young person with a very positive outlook on life, even though the tumor has affected his vision and his physical coordination. Early in this process, we checked with some medical contacts at major hospitals in the United States. They confirmed that the treatment he was receiving was exactly the same as he would have had at the best hospitals in the United States. In short, the Canadian health care system has provided excellent care over a long period at no direct cost his parents, in a case where he would have died long ago without treatment. I don’t know how much this would have cost in the US if the parents had paid directly, but I can’t imagine it would have been less than a million dollars.


A cancer DX in France means 100% coverage #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am an American who has been living and working in France since 1991. Even as far back as my first days here I had access to healthcare through my boyfriend's (now husband) policy. Some 20+ years later, following a routine mammogram (some costs covered by National healthcare the remaining costs covered by my private additional insurance) I was diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer. During this frightening time, one thing I never had to worry about was how I was going to pay for treatments. In France, a cancer diagnosis means that your National healthcare coverage goes automatically up to 100% for all treatment related to this diagnosis. Two operations, radiation therapy and a 5 year daily chemotherapy regime have all been covered. My only out-of-pocket expense was a bone density scan, 39€, which my private health care policy reimbursed. I am cancer free now but live with the lingering back of the mind fear that the cancer could come back, but I never have to worry that this "pre-existing" condition will stop me from reaching for and obtaining my professional and personal goals. Since my diagnosis and treatment, I have changed jobs and during a pre-hire medical check-up I was able to freely talk about my medical history without fear that would block me from getting hired....I'm year into my new job and loving it!


A helpful roundup from Costa Rica #DAresists #Medicare4all

Regarding Costa Rica's public health care system, I have belonged to the CAJA for 19 years. The cost based on income is affordable. I pay on a voluntary basis. I pay per month. I receive all medical treatment and prescriptions without additional cost. However I supplement CAJA care with private specialists such as my dentist and ophthalmologist. I pay for eyeglasses myself. These services are available through the CAJA but I prefer having my choice of providers in these cases. Lynda Page


Pneumonia in Argentina #DAresists #Medicare4all

In Argentina, there are two options: public health care, free for all, and a private option with private insurance companies. The private option is affordable. I am able to own a "Cadillac" plan paying on my own, out of pocket each month, as I work from home as an independent contractor. In 2012, I got pneumonia so serious that I spent five nights in the hospital. I was given a battery of tests: x-rays, Ct scans, blood tests. I was visited by a dietitian who built my hospital meals according to my illness and medications. I was visited daily by a physical therapist who taught me breathing exercises. I was visited by a hematologist daily who monitored my white blood cell count. I was visited by countless nurses and doctors around the clock and given breathing treatments. All of this treatment was included in my private health plan and I had to pay nothing on top of the co-pay I paid for my emergency room visit to be admitted. It's comforting to know that if I get sick I will be taken care of. I work hard and more than a full time schedule, more than 40 hours a week. But in the USA, working from home as a contractor, I wouldn't be given any insurance. I would be looked on as lazy for not getting a "real job" and getting insurance that way. This is unacceptable. There is also public healthcare here that offers comparable service to the private options. The difference is the infrastructure, the private hospitals are more modern, more polished. I've had friends go to public hospitals for surgeries and check ups and are charged nothing. I want to move home to the United States one day. The only thing, the ONLY thing that concerns me is the gamble of health insurance. What if I get into a car accident? What if I get sick? Will I lose everything? I shouldn't be afraid to move home because I may get sick.