Americans Abroad: Stories of Universal Healthcare
America stands on the brink of a new horizon in healthcare, taking a major step forward with the implementation of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. However, with President Trump and the Republicans prioritizing a ‘repeal and replace’ of the ACA, the future well-being of hard-working Americans is at stake - literally.
And that simply cannot happen.
In Europe and throughout the entire developed world, healthcare is considered to be a NON-partisan, universal human right.
Why not in the United States?
The clock must not be turned back on the progress Americans have made regarding their health. Now that millions have experienced the benefits of the ACA for themselves, they are speaking out like never before in favor of the fairness, affordability and inclusiveness that a healthcare system in every democratic, developed country should provide for its citizens.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of political persuasion, understand that we have to go forward on health care, not backwards.”
– Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) –
Following the January 15th and February 25th rallies organized around the country in support of the Affordable Care Act, more and more Americans are getting involved at the grassroots level and voicing their views on healthcare.
As an American living outside of the U.S. (of temporary or indefinite status), you have likely found yourself in conversations with friends and family back home, discussing the benefits of ‘universal’ healthcare policies that you have experienced abroad. Chances are, you have had a quality, professional experience whether you were working, studying or simply vacationing at that given moment. And these are the defining moments that must be shared.
We cannot afford to be silent – and there has never been a more important time than now. America has come too far to watch its long-awaited advances in healthcare be stolen away. We must not regress, but rather strive to improve, expand and make ever-more-inclusive this human right for all people, regardless of economic class, employment status, pre-existing condition, race, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc.
Will you tell your ‘healthcare abroad’ story, in support of the ACA and the principle of universal healthcare as a human right for America?
The U.S. State Department estimates that 7-8 million Americans live abroad. That means millions of healthcare stories.
Please join your fellow Americans in this effort by sending your short story (written or video) to firstname.lastname@example.org, to be shared back home with our representatives at the local, state and federal levels.
If you believe that healthcare is a human right and a moral imperative, let your voice be heard, loud and clear – share your story!
Americans Abroad: Stories of Universal Healthcare
As a longtime resident of Belgium, I participate in the national health system, which provides coverage throughout the European Union. I can go to whichever doctor, specialist or hospital I want. The cost is means-tested and can vary with my income. It takes the form of a single, quarterly payment that covers both healthcare and pension. I estimate the healthcare component at 1500-2500 euros/year. It has no deductible and covers about 75-80% of my healthcare expenses. I also have optional, supplementary private insurance (1400 euros/year) that covers 80% of the remainder of the treatment in Belgium and also covers 80% of the cost, up to a ceiling, of any treatment worldwide outside the EU. In 2002, I had a back operation for a slipped disc, was hospitalised for six days in a 2-person room and received two months' of physiotherapy afterwards. The total cost of the treatment was approximately 20,000 euros, which was covered. I ended up only 169 euros out of pocket. During the same period, a friend in the United States had the same operation and was only allowed to stay in the hospital two days. Her expenditure was considerably higher and had a deductible before the insurance kicked in. I believe that the Belgian system works well for two reasons. Although there is a wide choice of administrative bodies to manage reimbursement, known as "mutual societies", they are all run on a non-profit basis. Secondly, the government regulates the reimbursement rates for all healthcare services and pharmaceuticals. No political party or group questions the need for national healthcare, although rising costs have led to the widespread use of supplementary insurance.
Before moving to my current residence in Belgium, I lived in Spain. While living in Madrid with a ‘tourist’ status, I went home to the U.S. at Christmas time to visit my family and broke my wrist in a snowboarding accident. As a result of the break, I spent the next 3-4 hours in a nearby hospital where I received fantastic care from a specialist who not only reset my wrist (non-surgical intervention), but lightened the mood, made me laugh and truly added a personal, human touch to the always traumatic experience of a breaking a body part. Although still under the relaxing effect of the administered anesthetic upon leaving, the mood quickly became somber when I stopped at the check-out window and was presented with the bill. As an ‘unemployed and uninsured’ young person (under the age of 26) living abroad at the time, a 60% reduction was applied to the cost of my treatment, with an additional 10% discount available, pending the payment-in-full of the remaining bill amount within 30 days. Fortunately, my parents were able to assist me in covering the outstanding 30% of the total bill. Unfortunately, the total bill still amounted to over $2,000 USD. A week-and-a-half later, I returned to Spain, where, despite my unofficial status as a tourist (eg. 3-month visa-free tourist agreement between the U.S. and the 26 countries in the Schengen area of the EU), I had already registered myself as a ‘temporary resident’ in Madrid – thus providing me the opportunity to have a “tarjeta sanitaria” (medical card) for foreigners and nationals alike in Spain. With my medical card, I was not only able to visit a general practitioner for routine care, but hospitals and emergency rooms for more intensive care as well. Over the next several weeks in Madrid, I proceeded to make visits to a hand/wrist specialist, have x-rays taken and attend rehabilitation sessions with a physical therapist, paying a grand total of € 0.00 ($ 0.00 USD) out-of-pocket for all services provided. Years later, I fondly recall the entire experience as the time period in which I became a firm believer in universal healthcare not only as sensible, long-term economic planning for more egalitarian societies, but as a human right and moral imperative.