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


Survival is not a Pre-existing Condition #DAresists #Medicare4all

My partner has beaten cancer twice. Her spirit and willpower to beat it are a daily inspiration to me. But under any of the GOP's plans, her survival is considered a pre-existing condition and we would not be able to afford insurance. Here in Australia she received the medical care she needed to beat cancer, as have so many others that we met during her treatment, and she has gone on to get her Masters degree and contribute to Australia. Forcing Americans to choose between death and bankruptcy will not make our country great. It's time to not repeal the ACA, but develop it into Medicare for All.


Universal healthcare helps keep healthcare cost in check!#DAresists #Medicare4all

Friends of ours from California were visiting us where we live in France and one of them needed emergency gall bladder surgery. He had to spend 5 days in the hospital and the surgery, hospital stay, medications and follow-up care (daily house calls by a nurse) came to a total of 5000€. He of course had to pay for this as he's not covered by the French healthcare system but the cost of this life-saving surgery did not land him with a bill that would destroy his life! Thank you universal healthcare!


No appointment? No problem. #DAresists #Medicare4all

I live in Taiwan, which has national health insurance. One afternoon I mentioned to my wife that my eye had felt strange all day. She suggested we go to the ophthalmologist, whose office was a block from our house. It was about 4:30 and I knew they closed at 5:00pm. Not only that, I had no appointment. I assumed that I'd be turned away but my eye was uncomfortable so we went. There were a few patients in the waiting area when we got there. Eventually the doctor saw me and by 5:10 I was walking out the door with some eye drops. I was impressed. I have had doctors here tell me they are proud of the system that allows them to serve everyone. It is common for Taiwan citizens who live abroad to continue paying their insurance premiums and then getting checkups when they return to Taiwan because they don't have to wait weeks as people in some countries must do.


A week in the hospital with no bills #DAresists #Medicare4all

About 3 years ago, I broke my leg skating. This resulted in an ambulance ride to the hospital, emergency surgery to install a metal nail and screws, and a week's stay in the hospital. How much did I end up paying for all this? Nothing, it was completely covered by insurance, I paid nothing out of pocket. Just imagine how much this would have cost in the US, even after insurance. Think about the deductibles, the copays, the time off work.


Universal health-care in Spain takes care of me in my retirement #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have been living and working in Spain since 1964. There was a moment that I thought it was a temporary situation. Then I went back to the US with the thought of relocating there. After talking to friends and discovering what they were paying for health insurance, I changed my mind. Plus a horror story from my own family definitely changed my mind. A brother-in-law had a heart attack IN A HOSPITAL. He was later presented with a $40,000 bill that his insurance refused to pay and they cancelled his policy. This after years of paying $800 a month! Four years later and a court case, the hospital settled for $25,000. Something doesn't make sense. I am now retired and receiving wonderful medical attention cost-free. This does not mean that it is free. I paid into Social Security for years but am now enjoying the benefits of stress-free medical care that allows me to live comfortably on my pension without worries. So, wake up, America. Health-care should take care of you not bankrupt you.


Health Insurance in Germany #DAresists #Medicare4all

I'm an American who has been living and working in Germany for 25 years! I've been an asthmatic since childhood. It was always a struggle for my parents to get help for me when I had an asthma attack and can barely breathe! As I got older I was able to get health insurance through my employer, but whenever I lost a job I would also lose my health insurance! When I went to Germany I was suprised how easy the whole health insurance system was. Rich or poor, employed or unemployed, young and old; everyone was insured and had a simple card to use whenever one needed to go to a doctor or to the hospital. Germany has probably the oldest functioning health insurance system in the world - it's origins go back to the age of Bismarck in the 1880s. Yes, taxes are higher to help pay for the system but nobody really complains about it. Is it perfect? No, nothing is. But in the end everybody is satisfied with it, regardless of what political party one favors. I only wish that the U.S. would learn some lessons from the German health insurance system.


Managing Leukemia on the UK National Health Service #DAresists #Medicare4all

I live in London and have for many years now. When I was feeling unusually sluggish for weeks, I went to see my GP, who suggested a blood test. He had the result the next day and rang me immediately, offering me a choice of two local hospitals, and he then arranged for me to see a specialist at my chosen hospital within the hour. The hospital quickly confirmed a diagnosis of Leukemia and I was admitted for treatment of blood transfusions. I was then referred to another London hospital who are the UK Center of Excellence for the treatment of the rare form of Leukemia I have. They offered me a drug trial and I have never looked back, achieving remission in six months. My specialist was available to me for weekly visits as well as phone calls and email whenever I had any questions or concerns. She normally replied to my emails within about two hours. And all of this cost me not one penny - not the consultations, drugs, tests, transfusions or treatments. When I read the horror stories in the US press about "socialized medicine," I would like everyone in the US to know what it is really like to be backed up by the UK system, which is caring, responsive and up-to-date, and all free at the point of delivery.


Safe and Secure in Germany #DAresists #Medicare4all

I am an American living abroad in Germany. As the mother of 3, I will attest to the total freedom and security that comes with free healthcare. All of my children have had incredible luck with their health, there has been no terrible scare to contend with. But day to day, with allergies here and a broken bone there, we have always had the ease to go to any hospital or specialist as needed. My own health care has also been exceptional. I am 55 and from the beginning of my life in Munich to now I have never once not been able to get the care I 've needed. From broken bones (motorcycle accident), help with fertility, care and constant monitoring during difficult pregnancies, extra care for preemies (including a midwife that came to our home), all types of cancer screenings, paying for all doctors bills for chronic pain from Rheumatism, all dental, ... Well, I can go on. I will gladly continue to express my gratitude towards the German goverment's handling of our healthcare . All the while knowing that we are not exceptional, we are proudly one family of many that is secure in our healthcare needs within this country. I will gladly yell from any platform that Universal Healthcare is a right and not a privilege. We Americans Abroad here in Germany are proof of that .


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!


No waiting / No cost #DAresists #Medicare4all

(Copenhagen, Denmark) Visited a Dermatologist earlier this year because of some sun damage on my nose. The dermatologist advised me that the damage was quite deep and along with a biopsy the damage would need to be treated by a plastic surgeon. The dermatologist informed me that someone from my local hospital would get in touch with me "soon" to schedule the biopsy and follow up surgery to remove the skin damage. Within 48 hours I had a call from the hospital offering me a choice of several different days/times that I could come in the following week. Following the biopsy, I had to wear a dressing for a few days while we awaited the results. The hospital sent me home with gauze, medical tape, ointment, scissors, and tweezers so I could change my own dressings. A few days later after the (negative) biopsy results, they scheduled my plastic surgery to remove the sun damage, and repair it with a small skin graft taken from my neck. The surgery was performed by a team of 4 - a surgeon, 2 nurses, and an anesthesiologist, who took their time and were clearly interested in my care and comfort. Follow up visits were required to remove the stitches, and later to two visits to check on the healing. In all, I probably filled out a total of 3 forms, never waited more than 15 minutes to see a doctor or nurse, and my total out of pocket expense was ZERO - well, actually I did pay the equivalent of about $2 for a bus ride home after my surgery because they told me I shouldn't ride my bike. Compare this to my last US dermatologist visit in 2015 for out-patient treatment of minor sun damage on my face. With what I'd consider pretty good private insurance from my Fortune 100 company policy, my out of pocket was $225. I waited about a week for my appointment (not bad), filled out reams of paperwork - mostly asking the same questions I'd answered in my previous visits, had to file additional paperwork with my insurance company, and was kept waiting 30 minutes beyond the time of my appointment to see the doctor, who was clearly overbooked and quite rushed.


A Tale of Two Nations: Struggles with Crohn's Disease #DAresists #Medicare4all

I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at the end of my sophomore year of college, in 1998. The disease has no cure, and while it can be managed, it is at times excruciating --- both due to the physical manifestations and symptoms, but also for the mental anguish involved. It takes a toll, especially on youth. I had never given a thought to insurance or deductibles, never given a thought to chronic illness or preexisiting conditions. Health insurance was a nightmare. I will never forget my doctor telling me after I was diagnosed that I would have to find a job after college with a corporation or somewhere with a large coverage pool. In essence, Insurance would determine my fate. My fate and freedom were tethered to health insurance. It would tell me when I had to leave graduate school, where I could work ---that I had to, because of a malfunctioning protein, find a job, indeed career, almost solely based on health insurance.

I'm fortunate I had parents who had the resources and wherewithal to do things like hire attorneys and file complaints with the state insurance commissioner every time I was denied medication and treatment – what happened to the folks pre-ACA who couldn't do these things? At one point, when my doctor prescribed an expensive miracle drug fresh off FDA approval, he was forced into sending pleading faxes to the insurance company, lobbying on my behalf. The profiteers and money makers were clearly in charge --- telling the doctors what they could and could not do and prescribe. Like some sort of modern iteration of the greek gods, I can only think the insurance bureaucrats must have enjoyed the trials and tribulations they insouciantly and nonchalantly doled out, all to maximize profits for their corporate shareholders. There was the time I had fasted for 24 hours in preparation for a test, only to get to the hospital and have the nurse tell me that when she tried to run a pre-approval, insurance wasn't going to pay for the test. There was the time I had my expensive infusion of medicine at the hospital and insurance had changed the rules about where they would pay for patients to have it done. There are dozens more of these „There was the time“ tales. Every time I got something in the mail from insurance it meant I would be out a few hundred or thousand dollars or have to make fraught phone calls. It was stress on top of stress. And I had the best, most expensive, most premium, top tier insurance offered by my employer.

In 2007 I quit my teaching job and moved to Germany, my (German) fiancee/soon-to-be-husband and I agreeing that things would likely be better for me here, both for a saner and slower pace of life as well for the universal healthcare. After getting into the insurance system upon marriage( for which my husband pays a small percentage of his salary that is matched by his employer) I was almost immediately able to visit a leading university specialist through a call from my then-new General Practitioner (with whom I have ALWAYS, without exception, gotten a same day appointment, likely within an hour of when I call, for matters both minute and more serious)The specialist put me on a similar (exceedingly costly) medical regime to what I had back in Kentucky except that instead of insurance rigamarole like EOBs and copays and deductibles I get, every two months, a 10 euro invoice from the clinic pharmacy. I pay 60 euros a year for infusions that total approximately 42,000 euros each year. I recently paid just 5 euros for antibiotics, and my three year old son, like all children under 18 in Germany, gets all of his medication for free. All his appointments are free. Furthermore, I think back to my pregnancy --- a time when I have never felt more supported and cared for by a medical system. Me --- a foreigner whose German is pretty dubious at times --- getting better, more reliable care than I had ever had in my native country with seemingly the best of everything.  I had a midwife I saw with no out of pocket costs from 12 weeks of pregnancy to three months after delivery, as well as two Ob/GYNs (my regular one and a specialist for potential complications). There were never bills in the mail for any of these services (I suppose they were simply sent straight to insurance and because the health insurance industry is so heavily regulated in Germany and not dependent on turning a profit, they just pay for things. No quibbles, no arguing).  Our almost weeklong hospital visit for our son's birth consisted of free buffets 3 times a day and sharing a room with my new baby and husband. At the end of the 6 days we went to the hospital discharge area and paid 60 euros for everything and we even had free parking at the hospital. That was it. And that's the beauty of healthcare here in Germany --- that really is it. There are no hidden charges anywhere, no traps set by bureaucrats, no bankruptcies looming for a devastating illness that could come out of nowhere. You start to feel safe with this kind of system.  

To this day, though, when I receive mail from our insurance company here, I still shudder and open it nervously, expecting denial of coverage or trickery and an obscure reason why they don't want to cover something. It always ends up being a customer satisfaction survey, a free stress-reduction massage, or a reminder about free prevention programs. I am a refugee of the American Healthcare system, pre ACA. I don't say that to denigrate the experiences of true refugees from war torn countries who are in imminent daily danger of death, and I am fully aware of the privileges afforded to me as a white middle class American --- namely, I am considered an expat, as opposed to an immigrant or a refugee --- someone who moved to Germany voluntarily. But I felt as if my well-being and life were in danger under the old health insurance system and it seems it would be doubly so now. It struck me as a good idea to move here in 2007, but it's a necessity to stay here now. I'd never get insurance again. It bears saying again: I am a refugee of the American Healthcare system.


Vote for universal healthcare! #DAresists #Medicare4all

I have lived in Spain for 28 years. I have had numerous small illnesses, have high cholesterol, have had a number of x-rays and other tests, and even a broken leg in these years. I have never had to pay more than $20 at any time for any medicines (including statins), and all of my checkups, tests and other services have been free of charge. Usually medicines are under $5. There is a fee taken from my paycheck every month, pooled with everyone else's taxes, and this provided healthcare for the entire population. Waits for non-emergency services may be longer than I'd like, but I always have the option of paying a small fee (much smaller than in the US) to see a private doctor if I don't feel like waiting. I can easily make an appointment to see my GP online, and if it's more urgent I don't need any appointment. Emergency services are 24/7 at the hospitals, and they work effectively based on level of urgency (someone complaining of stomach problems which have been giving them trouble for weeks will go to the bottom of the list, obviously - they could have seen their GP at any time before going to the emergency room!). It's generally agreed here that the level of public healthcare is better than the private because they have more funding; the only reason people go to private doctors is to avoid queues or if they want special treatment like private rooms for birthcare, etc.


Never Again #DAresists #Medicare4all

As a former Officer of Marines, I essentially had fully socialised medicine or "Medicare" (Tri-care) from the government in that if I or any member of my family had a medical issue, we simply made an appointment, went in and received the care and any medication required without any worry that any single or multiple medical condition/issue would ever harm us financially in any way. No calls about billing, no exorbitant costs - i.e. no worries. After serving our nation for 11 years, I separated from the service and found myself with a civilian employer in the US. One night, our child grew dangerously ill and we felt compelled to take him to the ER in the middle of the night. At the end of it all, he spent one night in the hospital, was given Pedialite and had one IV inserted in his arm to re-hydrate him. We were shocked with a bill for over 5,000 Dollars (this was in 2005). I had full coverage insurance through my employer and overlap with Tri-care. Neither insurance company wanted to pay and the hospital came after us for the hyper-inflated bill. Considering that I was fully insured, I refused to pay. The battle went on for 5 years and finally Tri-care and my private insurer agreed to pay the hospital. What a nightmare... I have now been living with my family and working in Hong Kong for over 10 years. My employer gives me a medical card and my monthly medical payments are miniscule. I have full coverage medical care for myself and my family in Hong Kong and in the Unites States.  Additionally, we have no co-pay for any visits and there are no worries. I do not ever want to go back to the system in the United States which has the highest medical costs and the constant worry of inflated and overpriced medical bills and the worry of possible bankruptcy around the corner because of an unforeseen medical condition. We receive top-notch care here in Hong Kong top quality medical care here in Hong Kong and costs are kept very low removing the worry of financial hardship.  I have sampled many different medical systems throughout the world and they constantly demonstrate to me that the system in the U.S. is overpriced and undully hurts those that are less well off.  I am a believer in medicare for all and the Affordable Care Act.  No one should be ever be penalized financially for falling ill.  


A new hip and a new beginning #DAresists #Medicare4all

I live in Germany. In early July, I finally had the operation. I say finally only because I had to schedule it around my work schedule (I'm a self-employed musician). But even the weeks and months leading up to the big day speak volumes to the type of care that most of the western world takes for granted. As an aside, I have to mention how I pay for health insurance (and retirement insurance/Social Security/Rentenversicherung, and long term care insurance/Pflegeversicherung). It is through KSK (Kunstlersozialkasse). It is an income-based fund for those that work in the arts or publishing. Joining the organization was the first thing I did on the way to my residency permits and without it those would have been difficult at best, but more like impossible, especially for someone self-employed. A couple of years ago, I had first spoken about a pain in my hip with my GP. X-rays showed that it was arthritis taking its toll. From that point, it was up to me to decide when to have the operation, based both on my level of discomfort/pain, and work schedule. The GP wrote a prescription for ibuprofen tablets (most prescriptions are cost free, I think this cost me €5 for a generous supply. Doctor visits have no co-pay. There is no deductible for most costs). Of course I was free to also choose where to have the operation. And also free to get second or fourth opinions. All covered without questions by insurance. After about 1 1/2 years of dealing with the worsening condition, I ended up visiting a doctor/surgeon recommended by a friend. He worked out of a hospital in a very nice tree-filled area of the city, away from the craziness. From then on things moved rather quickly; updated x-rays, a meeting with the anaesthesiologist, a meeting for blood work-up and screening (it turns out they found a routine infection that was eradicated via a megadose antibiotic). Another reason for comfort with this particular doctor/surgeon is because of the device that he championed. It is a combination titanium and ceramic device, requiring no cement. The latter is better because in my case, I’m a bit young for the operation and it may have to be done again in 25-or-so years, depending on normal wear and tear. But this device will last longer than a traditional metal only unit. I checked in to the hospital (more accurately referred to as a Klinik, I believe because it is a private facility, as opposed to a Krankenhaus, which is public, but that needs to be verified) the afternoon before the surgery. Heh, none of this showing up at 6:00 AM on the day of stuff… The plan was to stay at the Klinik for 11 days, then move directly to a rehab facility for 3 weeks (!). All of this paid for through health and retirement insurance, without a deductible, except for €10 per day while at the Klinik. The room at the Klinik was shared with 2 other men The room at the Rehab facility was private, with all of the panache of a 1.5-2 star hotel… In other words basic, but good enough. As for the level of care, it couldn’t have been better, although hospital food is simply universally disliked. And the focus on infection prevention was incredible, as well. From the aforementioned infection treatment, to the constant reminders to use disinfectant, etc. As for recovery, it was the 2nd or 3rd day after the operation when the physical therapist already had me standing. From then on, daily exercises, then to getting around on crutches shortly afterward, to extended walks around the campus and neighborhood, and all of this while still at the Klinik. The move to the Rehab facility was done via taxi (paid for by insurance, of course) on a Friday morning. Checked in there (another gorgeous area of the city, right next to a park) and basically had the weekend free until the further rehab work would begin. I didn’t know what to expect at Rehab, but what was given was far more than anything I thought would happen. Not just the planned exercises (both in a health-club environment and physical therapy settings), but the seminars over nutrition and pain management, the one-on-one care from the therapists, nurses and doctors, financial advice and aid for those of us self employed and losing income while not working, the relaxation sessions, the time spent socially with other patients, etc. Day by day, better and better. Walks in the park to using stairs more than the elevator, the guidance and support from the staff, down time to practice or work on music (I had brought my computer and such with me). Also, it’s now 2 1/2 months since the operation, and rehab continues twice a week at a health-club-like facility in the city (one is given €5 per appointment for transportation costs!), and continued physical therapy at a second place. Again, to sum it all up, the experience was and continues to be wonderful. And with no worries for payment, what I could or couldn’t afford, even to the point of receiving some compensation to help with the loss of income, it is what most of the western world takes for granted, but what in the US is sadly and maddeningly argued over with all of the idiotic, uninformed fear mongering that goes along with it.


Unexpected devastating illness #DAresists #Medicare4all

In January, my 24 year old daughter had a very serious, unexpected stroke in NY. She was hospitalized in a local hospital where they were slow to diagnose and where she received no care. When, thanks to personal connections, she was transferred to a better hospital, she began to be treated with an unfortunate wait of over 24 hours. We arrived very quickly, and for the next 4 months, we were caught in a nightmare of insurance difficulties. This is despite the fact that she had a good job with good insurance. She was able to stay in acute rehab only a short period of time, despite her obvious need for more, because of insurance limitations. In the sub acute rehab, we were never clearly told whether she was being covered since the communication was only verbal between the facility and the insurance, and RETROACTIVELY we were told that they were supposedly not paying for 60 days of stay!! In addition, the doctors who saved her life have sent us huge bills that we cannot pay because they were out of network. This is all insane and caused us huge stress over the already enormous stress of this terrible event. When we got back to France as soon as was possible,she was immediately declared to have a major medical problem and thus covered by the government insurance at 100% (rather than the common 70%). She was hospitalized for another month, and is now being treated in a day hospital four days a week, in addition to having private therapy on the other days. All this is completely free. In addition, her transportation to and from the day hospital is provided free. In contrast, she would be completely out of benefits in the US if she had been obligated to stay. This situation of American lack of health care is absolutely inexcusable and needs to change.


Two new lungs #DAresists #Medicare4all

My uncle needed to have both his lungs transplanted. Both he and my aunt are teachers and would not have been able to afford the tremendous cost of this procedure plus a life-time of followup procedures in the US. Fortunately, they live in Canada, where almost everything was completely covered. They paid about $1000 total out of pocket over the course of several years. People often talk about the long waits in Canada, but other than waiting for the lungs themselves (and that wait would have been at least as long in the US), there was never a wait for anything.


Raising a child with Marfan Syndrome #DAresists #Medicare4all

Although I only planned on moving to Ireland for a year, I ended up meeting my current husband and am now raising a family here. As incredibly health conscious individuals, we never relied on healthcare other than the occasional broken bone. This changed two years ago when my daughter failed her eye test in junior infants (the equivalent of kindergarten). They discovered she had a rare, spontaneous genetic condition that required almost immediate eye surgery and will mean ongoing cardiac, ophthalmology and orthopaedic treatment her entire life. My husband has worked in teaching for 25 years and has a stable but not high paying job; I worked in the non-profit sector (ironically with blind people). Without universal healthcare, we would have been destroyed emotionally, financially, and spiritually. While healthcare here is far from perfect, it allows our family to live stress free and remain active, healthy citizens who contribute to the well being of society. It is insane Congress would consider anything less than universal healthcare. #DAresists #Medicare4all


If It Can Happen to Me, It Can Happen to Anyone #DAresists #Medicare4all

American society has made life easy for me because I am male, white, and straight, and I don't have any disabilities. So you would think that I would never have to go without my basic, Human needs being met by my society. Such as basic healthcare. But life is complicated, and in 2004, my basic needs DID go unmet by my society. I was between jobs, had to go to the emergency room for heat exhaustion, and ended up with a $2800 bill, which I didn't have the money for. I was scared. I wrote to the hospital and told them this, and they forgave almost all of the bill. But is that the way it's supposed to be in such a rich country? A citizen who supposedly is everything the society idealizes, no longer all that ideal when he suddenly needs healthcare? If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. And it does. Please give all Americans affordable health care. #DAresists #Medicare4all