“Don’t talk about politics.” That is what they warn you at international orientation. Yet, whether it’s my long vowel sounds or my quirky British slang, wherever I go people have asked my opinion of American politics as an impartial outsider.Impartial, I’m not so sure. I’ll admit I stayed up until 5 a.m. last November to watch the most recent American presidential election and partied in the streets. But when it comes to discussions of President Barack Obama’s healthcare plans, I’m more than happy to be an outsider.
I knew when I applied to study in America that I was leaving behind the comfort of a welfare state. I was less prepared, however, to find my bank account hemorrhaging and my medical costs still not fully covered. Don’t get me wrong, the student health plan offered by the College of William and Mary is better than anything Google offered me, and I’m sure it will look like a great deal if I get myself mutilated in a car accident or contract some horrible, life-threatening disease. But how likely is this during my short year abroad?
More likely, I’m going to get the flu, break a bone or need a checkup. According to my insurance plan information, in any of these situations I am paying $20 to see a doctor, $15 to $50 for prescriptions, 20 percent of costs incurred at a “preferred provider” and as much as 50 percent if I choose to go elsewhere.
Even more frustrating, my British friend found himself in need of a prescription during the weekend and was forced to pay off-campus costs to fill it. Ten Dollars might not seem much to see a doctor, after all, who doesn’t have $10? That’s not really the point though. Whether the fee is $5, $10 or $50, I can’t help but feel like I’m paying twice, once to my insurance provider and once to my doctor, whom my insurance provider apparently always forgets to pay.
Students I’ve talked to on campus have mixed views on the reforms Obama is suggesting, but the greatest criticisms seem to center around the implicit loss of quality and choice in nationalized healthcare. I can’t begin to explain how much this infuriates me. Your media has picked up on characters like member of Parliament Daniel Hannan, a Tory who rails against the National Healthcare Service, to prove that nationalized healthcare would be the death of the United States. But grant me just a few moments of your time to offer an alternative perspective.
I do not wish to disillusion you — the NHS is far from being a perfect system, and I doubt few would dispute that. As a student, I don’t get to choose which doctor I see and will not be able to attempt to do so until I graduate. But at the same time, British students can see a doctor for a prescription, free of charge. They will run tests, send us to specialists, perform operations, keep us in hospitals as long we need and provide us with whatever long-term treatment we need.
And we don’t pay a penny. We can move jobs or lose jobs and never have to think twice about what would happen to us if we got sick. We may pay for it through our taxes, but we still spend 5 percent less of our GDP on healthcare than America does on private insurance and every person is covered from cradle to grave.
As impoverished students we can choose which hospital to receive treatment from and be treated exactly the same as a CEO or high-powered lawyer would be. Maybe the problem is that a CEO doesn’t want to be treated the same way as an impoverished student, because after all, they can afford so much better. Yet, it’s students on this campus who told me that huge companies own America — that money runs this country. You told me America can’t be changed because money can’t be defeated. Yet ordinary Americans took a chance and elected a man with hope.Maybe you feel no moral obligation toward the 47 million Americans without health insurance or the 40 percent not covered by company healthcare.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me, I can run safely back to my socialized healthcare.At least some of you elected Obama because you wanted change, and change is what you are being offered. So maybe if enough people open their minds and take that chance, America can be a little healthier for everyone.
E-mail Lucy James at firstname.lastname@example.org.