Broken Healthcare

Broken Healthcare -From an American traveling abroad

I was having a fancy dinner with a new friend when I received the phone call no mother wants to hear. 

“Mom, I have to go to the hospital,” my son said. 

Just then the waiter began bringing out our food. I jumped up, threw down some cash on the table, and gathered my belongings. My son was doubled over in pain and had been vomiting nonstop for two hours.  Ordinarily, I would rush home and bring him to the hospital, but we weren’t home in New York. We were almost 5,000 miles away. 

I was helping my son settle in Spain

We had recently arrived in Spain, where my son planned to spend the year playing soccer. He’s only 16 and had never been away from home, so I rented an apartment for a few weeks to make sure he settled in before heading back to New York.

I arrived at his residence and one of his coaches drove us to the hospital. My friend from dinner, knowing I didn’t speak Spanish, kindly accompanied us. As I signed papers I didn’t understand, I fleetingly wondered how much this emergency visit would cost but was thankful he had health insurance through his soccer academy. 

The nurses triaged him quickly, taking his vitals and making sure he was stable. Then I assumed we were in for an hours-long wait, as we probably would’ve been in the US.   

It turned out to be nothing serious, but I was worried about the cost

When they examined my son an hour and a half later, the doctor explained that it was likely a bad stomach virus. I was relieved it wasn’t appendicitis. They did blood work and administered an IV filled with four types of medications.

Now that my son was improving, I began worrying about the cost. When the doctor said my son would need four prescriptions, I added that up in my head, too. I was told I’d have to pay out of pocket for the medications, and since we weren’t residents, it could be pricey. In the US, an emergency room visit could set us back a few thousand dollars and medications could run into the hundreds. I braced myself for the bad news. 

“How much?” I asked. 

“If you were a resident, it would be about 50 cents to 2 euros, but unfortunately, you’ll have to pay between 2 and 10 euros per medication. I’m sorry.” 

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. This proves how needlessly expensive healthcare is in the United States. I talk about this in my recent book, “Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir,” where I highlight gaps in healthcare and how a lack of accountability can change a person’s life. Two to 10 euros for medicine seemed more than fair. 

Early the next morning, I headed out to fill the prescriptions. I was told to find the closest pharmacy, hand over the script, and they would give me the medication on the spot. This sounded too easy. Often I had to fight with my insurance company to cover medications, and then I’d have to wait precious hours to get the prescription filled. In Spain, the total cost was 12 euros and the whole process took less than five minutes.

The normal reaction to a story like this is but how much do citizens of Spain have to pay in taxes? Also, how about the overall quality of care? Ok, here are a few facts. The overall quality of care is comparable between the two countries. The overall tax burden in the USA (including all taxes: income, property, sales, etc. (on average) is 24.7%. In Spain, it is 34.7%. Using the average US family income of $71,000 this amounts to an extra $7,100 or about $2,200 per person for the average family of 3.2. So there, that explains it. Or does it? One more fact. The average per capita cost of healthcare in the US is just under $12,900 while it is just under $4,000. The difference is almost $9,000 per person in hidden tax. The issue we have is cost. Why is it so much higher here? I have answered that question in several prior postings.`

Who is paying for the outrageous cost in our country? It breaks down into about thirds with 1/3 paid for in the form of Medicare and Medicaid, 1/3 paid via company healthcare plans (which reduces funds for salaries), and another 1/3 paid out of pocket in the form of premiums, copays, and deductibles.