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


Universal care? How about private insurance? #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have lived in 3 countries with genuine universal care, and could repeat the stories I see already posted. But let me blow your mind with this one: As a foreign resident and freelancer in Spain, I am required to buy private insurance. The cost? I pay less for 6 months -- for full coverage including dental and eye -- than I did for 1 month of catastrophic care at home -- and forget the eyes and teeth, of course.


I Owe My Life to Socialized Medicine #DAresists #Medicare4all

In 2011, I moved to Rome, Italy, to finish my Bachelor's degree. I have since remained in the country with my Italian partner. Over the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in a country that considers health care to be a fundamental right to all its citizens and legal residents. Thanks to Italy’s National Healthcare System, visits to my general practitioner and the emergency room cost nothing, trips to the pharmacy don’t require insurance coverage and never empty my wallet or bank account, and going to specialists and getting lab tests are either free or cost a small fraction of what they do in the US. But my gratitude goes far beyond these standard health care services. In fact, I owe my life to socialized medicine. In 2012, I was diagnosed with HIV. Living with this disease has been a struggle and has undoubtedly changed my life, but never at any point have I had to worry about how to pay for expensive antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. My life-saving medication and periodic check-ups at the hospital are guaranteed to me as a human right! Being a full-time student at the time of diagnosis, I don't know what I would have done if this had happened to me while living in the United States. Perhaps I would have been obliged to abandon my studies and find a job to pay for treatment. One of my greatest hesitations about moving back to the United States is my fear of not being able to afford ARV treatment or the periodic blood analyses I receive here in Italy. Common arguments against public health care systems like that of Italy are that they increase taxes unnecessarily or that the quality of such health care is poor, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is not true. Yes, there are issues, such as long waiting periods for specialists or occasional frustrations with bureaucracy, but the benefits far outweigh these costs. What’s more, I can always opt for a private hospital or doctor if I so choose. It's time for the United States join the vast majority of high-income countries in the world by providing truly universal healthcare through a single-payer system. (Note: Posted by Moderator, Anonymous Author)


I left the USA in 1969 and became a Canadian citizen in the '70's. #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have experience the Canadian health care system as both a patient and a physician. I have nothing but praise for Canada recognizing that health care is a right, not a privilege. As a physician I was always certain that I could provide the best care without worrying if my patient could afford my care. I am a psychiatrist and mental health care is covered just as any physical illness. As a patient I have suffered from a chronic malignant condition. I have received excellent treatment without worrying about losing my finances. The freedom from financial stress is healing in itself. Could the Canadian system be improved? Yes, of course, nothing is perfect. We need universal pharmacare, and dental care. We could better utilize our system to reduce wait times. Some elective tests, treatments are delayed, but any emergency investigation or treatment is available. Everyone is covered and we can use our medical card in any Canadian province. It even covers some benefits outside of Canada.


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.


Scorecard: Money and Longevity #DAresists #Medicare4all

United States Italy Gross Domestic Product per capita $57,467 $30,527 Health spending per capita $9,892 $3,391 Life expectancy at birth 78.8 years 82.6 years What’s Their Secret? As an American physician practicing in Rome I'm convinced the main reason Italians get more bang for their health care buck is that they have a single-payer National Health Service, financed out of taxes. Everyone can see their own primary care doctor and be cared for in the hospital without paying a penny, while medications, testing, and specialist exams require at worst a tiny co-pay. Add in low income inequality and a famously healthy lifestyle, and Italy has more than enough on the plus side to compensate for its medical system’s many flaws. Susan Levenstein, MD


Germany: the best health coverage I've ever had #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am an American citizen living in Germany and insured through the country's universal healthcare system. Although private insurance is also available here, the vast majority of people have the standard public insurance, and I can see why. It's by far, hands down the BEST health insurance I've ever had. It's simple, affordable, there are virtually no bureaucratic hurdles, and, best of all, any treatment you might need is paid for in full so NO risk of bankruptcy. The premiums are taken from your paycheck every month, exactly like Social Security, are income-based so everyone can afford it, and there are no surprise costs. Ever. The German public healthcare system covers a standard range of check-ups and procedures, which are automatically covered 100%. This range includes preventive care and standard treatment for ALL acute and chronic illnesses and injuries, including pre-existing conditions and basic dental. If there is going to be a charge for any additional treatment not covered by the public insurance (for example, higher quality materials for dental fillings), the doctor has to disclose the exact amount to the patient. The patient then has to sign a statement saying they consent to pay a pre-disclosed amount of money, BEFORE the care is provided. Patients are never required to pay for something they didn't consent to. Even if you do have to pay for something out of pocket the cost is very affordable (especially compared to the outrageous prices Americans are forced to pay). For example, the last time I had bloodwork done I requested a vitamin B12 test, which was not covered by the public insurance, and I only paid 14 euros (about $17) for it. I can hardly express how much safer it makes me feel to know that the cost of my healthcare is completely taken care of. I don't have to worry about it, ever. It's such a relief to know that I won't be surprised by costs that the insurance company just randomly decided not to pay for, which has happened to me several times with private insurance in America and has cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars. It's comforting to know that here in Germany I will never be faced with the possibility of bankruptcy simply due to an illness or injury. That is a comfort I will never have in America unless something major changes. And in addition to the costs for treatment being completely taken care of, the premiums are affordable because they are solely determined by income. This is not only great because everyone contributes what their income allows, but it also prevents discrimination based on age, sex or health status. Women, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are not charged more than anyone else. This is the way a humane, civilized healthcare system should be. I think America should adopt many of the conveniences and much of the humanity of the German universal healthcare system. When I go to the doctor here, I show my insurance card when I arrive, they scan it (it has an NFC chip with my information on it), and when my appointment is done I just leave. No paperwork, no copays, no fussing around with bureaucracy. I love that about the German system, and that's how the American system should be too. It will be crucial to look to other countries for inspiration and models that America can base a universal healthcare system on. Look particularly to northern European countries like Finland and Denmark, which have even more streamlined public systems than Germany. Looking to those countries can give a good idea in terms of content of a universal health plan. I also think looking to what Americans would consider "third world" countries with universal public healthcare systems is also useful, since it shows that a system that includes everyone doesn't have to cost a huge amount of money. It's time that America joined the rest of the developed world in providing healthcare to all citizens and residents as a right, and not as a privilege to be bought and sold by the wealthy. A single-payer, Medicare-for-all universal healthcare system is the best choice. If that existed I might even consider moving back to the States, but as it is I'm going to stay in Germany where my health is protected and where my entire financial future can't be compromised by one accident or illness.


Single Payer Works for Trauma #DAresists #Medicare4all

I live in London, and earlier this year, I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. Without hesitation, I went straight to Accidents and Emergencies, where I was dealt with quickly and compassionately by the nurses and doctors on call, even on a busy Saturday night. Most importantly, they immediately alerted and referred me to a free weekly counseling service, which helped me work through near-constant feelings of guilt, trauma, and thoughts of self-harm that came up after the incident. In the US, my insurance would not have covered this counseling, or would have partially covered it, leaving me with a copay of at least $100 per session, which many people can't afford, especially not as an ongoing service. Thanks to single-payer healthcare, I was not only aware of the help I could receive, but I wasn't afraid of sacrificing my financial security for my mental well-being. I love the NHS!


I confirm that I strongly support universal health care. #DAresists #Medicare4all

The answer to the question if every American has the right to Health Care is self-evident. It is clear that the our government is in the pockets of the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies. The question we need to be addressing is why every everything to do with health care in the US is priced exponentially more than in other countries. We may not be able to get to this question, however, until we address the issue of campaign finance reform.


#DAresists #Medicare4all I'd rather be in Canada where healthcare is concerned

We live in Canada and are so lucky to have the health care we enjoy. It isn't free as we've paid for it on a weekly basis throughout our working lives. We are retired now and can still visit the doctor as needed. My husband recently made such a visit as he was experiencing periodic pains in his chest. He was scheduled for a cardiac stress test almost immediately at no cost to us. I dropped him off and picked him up 3 hours later. When he got home he looked this test up as he was curious as to what it might cost in the US and found that it would be $3-5,000 or more depending on where in the US he was. I have no idea if any health plan in the US would cover this test or what the co-pay would be if it did and I'm glad to be here where I don't have to worry about the cost when testing is needed.


Universal coverage is better in Canada #DAresists #Medicare4all

As a longtime resident in Canada (I am a dual citizen, born in 1937 in NYC) I have benefitted from Canada’s medical system. It is not perfect, by any means—wait times, for example, are all too often excessive—it is much much better than the chaos that exists all over the United States. In the US, health care is difficult to comprehend, too many people are left out, and the Trump administration aims to make this worse. I think many Americans are getting fed up: that’s why Senator Sanders has attracted a significant number of Democratic members of the Senate who will support his “single payer” bill. Deborah Gorham


No healthcare worries at all since moving to the UK #DAresists #Medicare4all

I moved to the UK on April 4, 2010 and have lived here since. From April 4th onward I stopped worrying about health insurance coverage, premiums and health care costs, all due to the UK's National Health Service. What was once one of the largest sources of stress and concern in my life disappeared literally overnight. The US could have this too - after all, most developed economies in the world provide health care for their citizens. Healthcare for all isn't radical. It's obvious.


The experience of a senior citizen couple in Canada #DAresists #Medicare4all

As everyone can tell you, Canada's system isn't perfect, but it is certainly a vast improvement over the US system. In my years here in Canada, I have battled heart disease, including bypass surgery, degenerative disc disease, and two surgeries for cancer. My husband has had several knee replacements. All this has been at no cost to us. Now that we are over 65, prescription drugs are also included. I watched how much my mother paid for her insulin and a plethora of other drugs in the US, even with Part D of Medicare and an Insurance plan and how that ate into her savings in her old age. To be fair, elective surgery and many specialties are rationed based on severity of illness. In my experience they are pretty good at triage, but you can end up on a wait list if your condition isn't urgent. I can see my family doctor within a day or two. All countries ration health care. In the US it's rationed based on who can pay. In Canada, it's rationed more on need. Hope this helps. Nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick. Jackie DiGiovanni


Healthcare in Alberta Pt. 2 #DAresists #Medicare4all

Ten years later, 2017, I now have a new replacement of my left knee. Why? Arthritis, of course. So, I’m now bionic!! No Charge! My seven physio treatments following surgery - No Cost! The three further treatments my physiotherapist requested of Alberta Health were approved, No Charge! My husband enjoyed having Kidney Stones so much that he was hospitalized 5 times. Rarely did they pass on their own. Sometimes they used a lazer to break them up. No Charge!!! Our children are grown and have their own families. My husband and I are seniors. Our medications never cost us more than $25.00/prescription, and usually much less. An exception would be a medication which is not listed under Alberta Health. If the drug is needed, by Doctor’s request, our Pharmacist can contact Alberta Health, explain the situation, and the drug could then be added as a medication I need. All our hospitalizations, ambulance rides, No Charge! We no longer pay into Alberta Health. We never had the need to buy extra health insurance. American Congress, it doesn’t get any better than this. Your families across America could pay into Health Care by the quarter, at a rate determined by the family’s size and ability to pay. The top 2% can easily pay their own way and not draw on the monies needed for low income, working poor, and middle class. As I sit here in Edmonton, AB, Canada, I just shake my head at the cruelty of the Republican Party and what it is willing to inflict on the American People. None of that is necessary, and it certainly is not humane. America is not, and never has been, a leader in the field of Health Care. You are waaay behind the other free democracies of Europe. You, Republicans need to work with the Democrats to come up with a Health Care Plan as Great as the one I enjoy in Edmonton. If Canada, with more land, but fewer people, can do this the USA Should be able to do it. SHOULD, but NOT WILLING to, because of your silly politics and politicians. You put yourselves in the way of your Constituents, and Cooperation. I Believe America CAN do this. If you WILL do this, is the question.


Complete Peace of Mind #DAresists #Medicare4all

When my family and I moved to Germany in 1972, we hesitated to go to the doctor, not convinced that it wouldn't cost us anything. But it didn't take long for us to become believers and appreciate the excellent coverage for everything from a cold or flu to checkups, operations, chronic conditions, including dental care, hospital stay, and prescription medications -- everything covered and at a reasonable cost. I would like to share just one example: When our son was just finishing his university studies, rheumatoid arthritis hit him with a vengence. It soon became clear that he would not be able to successfully persue a career in teaching as he had planned and he dropped out of college to concentrate of getting treatment. He was insured through the university, but as a non-student he needed to look for new health insurance. Although his "precondition" was obvious, whatever insurer he chose was obligated to accept him, That company has already paid out hundreds of thousands of euros for him, including two hip replacements and significant regular medication costs . There has never been any balking on the part of the health care provider whatsoever. Imagine what the situation would have been in America, trying to find a provider with that kind of precondition. But here in Germany he and the rest of the family enjoys complete peace of mind, knowing that whatever health issues come along, and there have been many through the years, we have nothing to worry about. Everything will be taken care of. And we look at what is currently happening in the US Congress regarding health care legislation and can only shake our heads and wonder. Unfathomable! Roy Lynn Pugmire Bremen, Germany


NHS in the United Kingdom and Cancer Treatment #DAresists #Medicare4all

This is the story of my husband's cancer treatment. His first operation was very expertly done and this was followed by chemotherapy and regular scans. A scan discovered secondary cancer which was treated with chemotherapy again including home visits. This was followed by a second operation done by a specialist surgeon. Since then there have been regular scans and consultations with a very good and humane oncologist who has been there for my husband consistently. We have been made to feel well cared for and calm throughout. This did not cost us anything.


A medical exile? #DAresists #Medicare4all

As a Type 1 diabetic, living in Italy has been good fortune. All my health care needs are met, and I pay very little for that care. Taxes are steep, but they are predictable, and I don't worry about a medical emergency bankrupting my family. Sadly, the prospect of returning to the US feels fraught with the "pre-existing conditions" provision, which has to be one of the most cynical and immoral policies in a civilized society. How odd that as someone born and raised in the US, and for 30 years a taxpayer there, I may be a medical exile from my homeland.


Perspective of a Medical Professional in Canada #DAresists #Medicare4all

I support universal health care because: As a physician, it is easier for me to provide care to the patient I don’t have to ask permission to order an MRI. I just order it. As a disabled patient in a wheelchair from injury and a heart condition (from age), it makes it cost effective for me as a high end user of medical care (18 specialists this year alone). All the studies show it is the cheaper option for the govt. So. what’s not to like? MJ Willard DVM MD


The price of health should not be stress and debt #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am an America who has lived in a number of different countries (now in the UK). I gave birth to my daughter in France. Due to complications, I ended up in hospital for 4 weeks before she was born, prematurely, by C-section. After another 2 weeks in the hospital in a special unit for premature babies and their mothers, we left the hospital together, both healthy. My costs for all this? A small fee for the hospital meals I had eaten, in the final week in which I was discharged but allowed to remain with my baby. That's it. A very stressful time was not made more stressful by fears of mounting hospital bills, and there was no question that we would not get the care we needed. We moved to Norway, did not pay any supplemental health insurance, but were taken care of wonderfully by the state. Now I live in the UK, where our health care is likewise available without massive stress and worry and cost. It saddens me to visit my family and friends in America, and hear stories of their struggles to pay for the care they need or worse, to go into debt or to go without and suffer, as they cannot finance it. It is to me, by far more sensible, and by far more civilised, to make universal health care a right, not something that anyone should have to worry about having access to. Health care should be affordable and accessible; much of the world has realised this. Isn't it time that America woke up to the fact that capitalism can be compassionate? It does not have to mean brutal survival of the fittest/richest (i.e. those able to earn enough to afford the "luxury" of health). We need to be a society that recognises basic human dignity and needs; a healthy and secure society is a happy and productive society.


Overview from nearly 20 years in the UK #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have been living in England since 2001. My health care here has been excellent. I don’t have a single “story” of why the care here is excellent but I do have a general ability to get on with my life and manage my own health because of the support I can count on from the NHS. I’ve experienced minor illnesses, a skin problem that required minor facial surgery, and mental health difficulties that required months of treatment. None of this cost me anything (okay, a small medicine co-pay but REALLY small – and limited since the NHS prescription card is a thing). Any time my son, who is now 19, was ill I could take him to the doctor (I’ve never lived anywhere more than 15 minutes’ walk from the doctor’s office) because no matter how little money we had, he was taken care of. I think back to my life in the US as a child - where my parents had to decide not only if I needed the doctor, but if we could afford to go. That is not my life and not my reality. I can take risks. I can travel. I can extend and renovate my home. I can buy a new car. I never have to hold money back to make sure I can afford the doctor or the hospital. I can be less than perfect with money and not die because of it. I want that for everyone. I want my friends back home to have the freedom I have that comes with universal health care. Regards, Arwen