Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's time to start asking questions

I am an artist living at a residency in Finland for 3 months.  Yesterday, I injured myself while chopping wood.  I had to go to the hospital to get stitches.  I went to a communal hospital that doesn't have a mechanism for charging their clients, so despite having and offering my U.S. health insurance foreign emergency coverage as a means of paying for my services, they were unable to process a charge for any patient including me. 

Admission to the hospital was a one page document requiring my name, date of birth, address in Finland, a local emergency contact and a brief medical history, including allergies to medications they may use to treat me.  Though the nurse and doctor didn't speak very fluent English, my basic knowledge of Finnish and their solid understanding of basic English allowed us to have a quick and comfortable conversation about how to proceed with the stitches and what I needed to know about my aftercare.  I was out of the hospital within 45 minutes with additional dressings for my wound to take home with me. 

This hospital was in a community of maybe 500 people in rural Western Finland.  The doctor told me there are no shootings, stabbings or interpersonal injuries that aren't accidents.  The nurse told me that most of the injuries in April are related to chopping wood.  Most of the injuries in May are related to lawnmower repair and most of the injuries in June are related to fishing hooks.  The Finns go to regular doctors for preventative care, not the hospital, and they pay a small co-pay for each of the first 3 visits of the year and then they don't have to pay anymore for any visits over the rest of the year.
Except for my experience with my senior parents who use medicare for their healthcare, this was my first personal experience with socialized healthcare.  My experiences with U.S. and Finnish socialized medicine have reinforced my belief that now is the time to be asking very important questions about the direction of our country.  I am pleased to see in the U.S. news that I read each day that there are seniors going to townhall meetings to challenge their elected U.S. representatives on their vote for the Ryan Budget Proposal that would gut Medicare and cut off any possibility for expanded socialized programs.  More questions must be asked.  My brief trip to the emergency room would have cost me more than US$1000 if I didn't have insurance and I'd had the same accident at my home in DC metro area.  Even with insurance, if I had a high deductible for my emergency policy, it STILL may have cost me more than US$1000 since this was the first emergency I'd had in many years and I haven't been paying into my deductible this year
It is very important to be asking questions of the supporters of the Ryan Budget Plan, because the plan intends to remake Medicare and cause seniors to compete in hostile private markets for a proposed $15,000 voucher that wouldn't come close to covering premium costs, let alone deductibles or overages in lifetime costs.  Without a repair to provide the guarantee that people cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, many seniors would simply be denied coverage.  Let us not forget that while attempting to make Medicare into a voucher program, the State Attorneys General of Virginia, Michigan and other states are challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (derisively referred to as "Obamacare").  ACA being the only law in the land that DOES prevent exclusion of individuals from medical coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

It's time to start asking very difficult questions of the Elected officials, Democrats and Republicans.  However, it's time to start asking even harder questions of the most vulnerable among us in these proposed changes being passed through the House of Representatives by conservatives - we MUST start asking questions of the conservative voters who are voting against their own interests.

Republicans, who had supported and voted for their elected officials, are the ones standing up at town hall events to ask their Republican leaders "what will the Medicare Make-over will mean for me and my children?".  This is encouraging because they are beginning to see how the Conservatives are voting against their own interests. They might be beginning to see that the conservatives are not their candidates and will not represent their interests in Congress.  

I am watching this from a distance and feeling very safe that if I should have an accident while I'm living and working in Finland I will not be left to die or forced into bankruptcy in exchange for a basic medical treatment.  

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