I complain about things here. A lot. I know.
But it really isn’t all bad news bears here in the land of beer and pretzels. I mean, this is the home of the Biergarten. Where in July you can enjoy a refreshing beverage of your choice outside on a bench with your friends and not sweat to death.
So, I’d like to take a moment to brag a bit on one of the lovelier things here in Germany: the affordability of healthcare in this country. I don’t often get too political here on my blog, but I do have to commend Germany’s government and the healthcare system in general. The healthcare system in the US was, and sadly, still is broken. I think it’s only going to get more broken until some sort of French Revolution style revolt occurs with CEOs of insurance firms being guillotined in Times Square. I won’t lie, or hide my views. I am much more liberal than most of my friends and family. That’s ok, we all get along. I don’t stand up on my soapbox all the time. But I would like to highlight some of the positive things in Germany, so here’s my story:
My first pregnancy, I was unmarried and on a tight budget- I had just quit my job to go to nursing school. Now you an cast all sorts of judgement on me for having an unplanned, out-of-wedlock baby. All I can say about that, is that I really don’t care what your opinion of it is. It was what it was. And like a lot of things in my life, I figured I’d just struggle through it and somehow make it work. My first doctor’s appointment I was given pamphlets and lots of information. I was also given a sheet that said about how much it was going to cost. It was in the thousands, and that was just the costs from my doctors clinic. That didn’t include the hospital costs or costs for an extra special circumstance type things. It said to contact my insurance company and to find out exactly what was covered and to set up a payment plan. It was like a warning, they didn’t want you to freak out at the last minute with a huge scary bill.
A week later, I got a letter from my insurance company informing me that my COBRA payments would be upwards of $500 a month. Yeah, that was going to happen. So I did something that was painful to my pride: I signed up for Medicaid. I justified it by telling myself that I had paid into the system in the years prior when I was working, but still I felt a bit sick in my stomach.I wasn’t alone, people in all sorts of health predicaments face this same struggle and anxiety. The person with the chronic illness who got laid off, couldn’t get coverage for treatment with their new insurance because of their “pre-existing condition”. Or people reaching “lifetime” limits because a for profit corporation put a price tag on a person’s worth. Or hospitals charging $10 for 1 Tylenol. I just think it’s all a bit ridiculous.
I was actually very lucky. Louisiana was set up that all pregnant women without insurance could get on Medicaid if they needed to. And I could do it online without anyone seeing or judging me. I just thank God that I had an excellent doctor who truly cared about me and didn’t care that I was (temporarily) on Medicaid. He made sure that I got great care and never skimped on anything.
Flash forward 4 years and a different continent. I now have very good private insurance. But we only have a private policy because Armin is a government employee. Since they pay their employees well, employees are expected to contribute out of pocket. Most people in Germany are on one of the public systems. Want to know what we all have in common? We don’t really worry about healthcare costs. Public insurance people pay a flat fee each time they go to the doctor. We get our bill and then pay the doctor ourselves. The we send everything to our insurance company and get reimbursed. So I have an idea of how much things cost.
A few weeks ago, I had a bit of bleeding one Saturday morning. I wasn’t worried, as I know it’s not uncommon in pregnancy, it wasn’t a lot, and I’d had it once or twice with the first pregnancy. But that night I was standing in the kitchen and felt a bit of pain low in my abdomen. I sat down for a bit, the pain stayed. I decided that it was probably nothing, but I should see a doctor, just in case. (Who does that in the US?) So I drove myself to the hospital, told them what was happening and was taken into an exam room. The doctor asked if I had taken anything for the pain. I said no, she left the room and returned with a packet of pills. She gave me 2 and a glass of water. She asked if I had these pills at home. I said no, I didn’t even know what they were. She gave me the rest of the packet and told me I could take them home. They were over-the-counter meds, but her giving me the extras meant I didn’t have to drive to the one open pharmacy that night. She did an ultrasound and assured me that all was well with the little one. She said I probably had the over-exerted myself and I was given directions to go home and rest.
The next week the bill came, and as I opened it Armin grumbled about how much it probably cost for a late night weekend visit to the ER. Who wants to guess how much the total was? Seriously, take a wild guess. ER visit + Ultrasound = 100 € They didn’t even charge for the pills she gave me. Now, if you aren’t familiar, 100 € is about $130. So yeah, the whole ER visit was less than 1 Ultrasound in the US.
I won’t say the ACA is great. I see that it has flaws and that it has actually caused more problems for some people. But I think the idea that people can access medical care when they need it and not stay up all night worrying how to pay for it is great. I have a lot of things to worry about- I have a child, an elderly dog, a marriage that requires the normal amount of work and care. But I don’t have to worry about my health or that of my family. We can afford it, and while the culture and customs may be different, I don’t fee that the medical care here is lacking in quality. My sincere hope is that the US can figure out a way to bring this peace of mind to its people.