In Praise of Universal Healthcare

So funny story – Two Sundays ago, I managed to cut my hand badly enough to need stitches, and to force me to not do any writing while the cut did its initial healing.

Since most of my readership is from the US, I thought it might be useful to give a snapshot of my experience in a universal system. There’s a flat fee of €100 for visiting Accident and Emergency, and the triage nurse, after bandaging my hand, told me to go home to sleep, and come back in the morning. It was when most of the city was celebrating Halloween, so my little cut was pretty low on the priority list. I went back in the morning, got the cut properly cleaned and stitched up, got a tetanus booster, and was sent on my way with instructions to return if I started showing signs of infection. Having grown up in the US, I checked whether I should brace for another bill for another trip to A&E, but I did not. That initial fee, plus the tiny amount I pay monthly for private insurance as an immigrant, covers everything to do with this injury. It’s a small disincentive – enough that I’m not gonna be cavalier about using such a service, but the arrangement is such that there’s no incentive for me to delay treatment for fear of the cost. The hundreds or thousands I’d have to pay for the same service in the US would, at minimum, have made me seriously consider cleaning and binding my wound myself, and trusting in my body’s ability to fight infection.

A week and a couple days out from the injury, and everything’s healing up fine. The stitches should finish dissolving before too long, and I’ll back to normal. It was a clean cut, and it didn’t hit any nerves or tendons, but if it had, I would have gotten that treatment based on what was needed, not on what I could afford. No surprise bills, no extra paperwork, no negotiating with a middle-man insurance company for the right to anesthetic, or three stitches instead of two, or whatever else they and the for-profit hospitals would think up to siphon off more of my money.

Universal healthcare systems are not perfect, and they absolutely do let people down, but the sheer scale of callousness, greed, and exploitation that’s built into the US healthcare system can scarcely be exaggerated. Supporters of that system like to rant about government bureaucracy, but nothing in any government system I’ve encountered comes close to the bureaucratic nightmare of navigating the labyrinth of arbitrary rules, barriers, costs, and paperwork that has been forced upon every patient in the United States. If you have a universal healthcare system, fight hard against any who would seek to take that away (looking at you, UK). If you don’t have such a system, do what you can to get one, and fight against the lies told to justify the cruel parasitism of for-profit healthcare.

So that’s why there wasn’t a post last week, and why I’m not sure there will be anything more substantial this week. I’ve got other work that I’m behind on, thanks to losing the use of a hand for a few days. Even so, I’m grateful to live somewhere that has a real healthcare system, and I’m actually feeling good about the progress of this novel. If you’re reading this, I hope life is treating you decently, despite the chaos and horror flooding that’s been flooding the airwaves.


  1. xohjoh2n says

    There’s a flat fee of €100 for visiting Accident and Emergency

    That surprised me. After googling, it’s a Republic of Ireland thing only. NI, as with the rest of the UK, have no such charges (apparently even for foreigners, despite all the political posturing about “them people coming here and stealing our NHS” and the fact they get absolutely soaked for longer-term care.)

    It looks like it doesn’t apply if you have a GP referral letter though, so when you’re in the middle of dropping dead of a heart attack or stroke it’s vitally important you phone your GP to get one of those to avoid the charge(!).

  2. sonofrojblake says

    In praise of universal healthcare in the UK: six and a half years ago I made an error of judgement, sufficient that my left shin bones were poking out of two large holes in my skin.

    Mountain rescue helped the air ambulance crew put me in the helicopter, once they’d given me some morphine to stop me singing Barry Manilow songs (how do YOU deal with pain?). When I got to the hospital I got X-rayed to allow them to see the extent of the damage. The orthopaedic surgeon opened his diagnostic chat with me with the word “SHIT!” and a facial expression that said I’d done the job properly. The A&E people gave me some ketamine to make sure I was somewhere else, then pulled the bones back inside the leg. Next day they put a titanium nail down the tibia. Two days later they grafted some skin off my thigh to cover the holes the bones had made. A week later, when one of the grafts failed, they dug a fist-sized lump of flesh out of my calf and folded it over the hole, grafting more skin off the thigh to cover the gap it left. I was in the hospital for a month, washed, fed and watered the whole time. I continued to receive regular wound care for the graft sites for another couple of months. I had weekly hydrotherapy sessions for six months, and physiotherapy for nine months. I was prescribed Oxycontin, although I got off that asap. Today, my leg looks like a crocodile has been at it, but I can run, jump and climb almost as well as I ever could (although I’ve not flown a paraglider since).

    Total cost to me of all this was… £0.00.

    And if I ever get the chance, I’ll take anyone who wants to privatise our healthcare and throw them off a fucking cliff.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I never saw the pilot, but William flew RAF SAR, not a civilian air ambulance.

  4. says

    Yeah, moving to Ireland from Scotland felt like moving closer to the US in more ways than distance. We couldn’t buy into the system here, we had to actually get health insurance, and we have to pay like twenty bucks every time we go to the doctor. Even so, the insurance is dirt cheap (for better coverage) compared to anything in the US, and there’s no extra charge for using ambulance services.

    Like – I’d rather not have lost the hundred euros, but compared to the US situation, this is damned near miraculous.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    I did not know that. In that case – unlikely, but I suppose possible if you say so. Like I said, I never saw or heard the pilot, and I was in any case ripped to the tits on morphine at the time. The one I was in I had to practically posted in through a slot – there’s NO room inside to move about.

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