Why I Love the NHS

Over the past several weeks there has been endless, and rather heated, debate about health care. As an American-born single woman living in England, where I enjoy dual-citizenship and, yes, government-provided health care, I thought I’d share my two cents on the subject.

73807521Prior to going freelance and moving to London, I had a corporate editing job in New York which paid for my insurance (my health insurance, mind you – not dental, or cancer, disability, or accidental insurance, though I snatched up those policies from Aflac). When I went to the doctor, I typically waited about an hour after my appointment time, spent a few minutes with the doc, and then paid a co-pay ranging from $25-$50, depending on the doctor. In one instance I wound up having to pay $700 because a clerical error had failed to record my new doctor as my primary care physician. I literally went to my doctor’s office and wept, begging him to dismiss the charges. He didn’t.

When I traveled to England prior to getting my citizenship and sprained my ankle, a friend took me to the NHS. I filled out one tiny form and they whisked me off to see the doctor. As a non-resident I was asked to pay £25 – roughly the same as my co-pay in the States. My prescription cost about £6. In the States, with insurance, I’ve had to refuse scrips because I couldn’t afford them.

When I went freelance and was still living in the States, I looked into getting insurance. Any plan I could afford as a single woman had such a high deductible, it seemed wiser to hedge my bets and go without. Why pay $80 a month and then $5,000 if something happens, when I could just pay nothing now and $5,000 when something does happen? If I needed medical attention, I paid out of pocket, which amounted to $150 per visit on average.

Now, I’m living in London as a resident and count my lucky stars that I have the NHS. Prescriptions in my experience are about £7. When you make an appointment you are seen within 5-10 minutes of that time. Yes, you don’t have a lot of time to sit with the doctor, but I haven’t felt neglected by that. Single women can also take pregnancy tests or get sexual health screenings without paying a dime.

A month ago I was out with friends and was hit by a terrible bug – it was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. My friends rushed me to the hospital, where I spent the next few hours getting every sort of work-up imaginable. At 7am we walked out without being handed a bill.

When a similar incident happened to my brother in Texas a couple of years ago (he was at a party, cracked his head, and passed out; ironically he had EMT training but was the only person around who would know what to do in that situation), his well-meaning friends called an ambulance. At the hospital he was given stitches. Just being out of school and no longer eligible for my parents’ health insurance, he now owes $5,000.

I recently ran into a friend from high school who lives in Paris. He is a war vet and has a health plan through the VA. But when he needed dental work, the price tag with his dental plan was through the roof; his dentist even recommended that he postpone the treatment until he got to Paris. When he saw the French dentist, he had his filling replaced and a tooth smoothed out. Total cost: about 20 euros, which he said the dentist seemed embarrassed to be asking for. He joked that it would be cheaper for him to fly to Europe than to pay a US dentist.

Naturally, when I hear people complaining about government involvement with health insurance, I can’t help but shake my head. If I were living in the States right now, I wouldn’t have insurance, plain and simple. Here, if something happens I have the comfort of seeing a doctor and getting peace of mind. Some may see this as a gray issue, but to me it’s pretty black and white.