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US vs. UK health care


 There's been a lot of debate in the news lately about President Obama's plan to overhaul the American health care system. Democrats say the system is a mess and must be redesigned. Millions of Americans can't afford or aren't eligible for basic health care. Republicans say Obama's plan for universal health care is "socialized medicine" and would destroy the system.

Quite frankly, I don't understand the Republican arguments. The Republican argument is that somehow "universal health care" translates to socialism, or that universal health care somehow means Americans will lose their current insurance company/doctor/health care provider. Hey GOP, get this through your head: You CHOOSE! (We all know 'choice' is a hard word fro GOP to muster). But here's how it works:  If you're happy with your current insurance company, you can keep it. If you want to switch to the government plan, then that's good too. Besides, Republicans conveniently forget that we already have a form of universal health care...it's called Medicare/Medicaid or Veterans Health Administration.

Whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think we can ALL agree that something needs to be done. Americans should NOT be going bankrupt because they need health care, or forced to chose between buying medicine or buying food.

The Two Crabs are American expats who have lived in the UK since 2005. I've written a few posts defending Britain's National Health Service (NHS). Sure it has its problems. It's not perfect. But in the UK, we have a CHOICE. You can either be on NHS, or you can pay out-of-pocket for private health insurance just like Americans do. Contrary to public opinion, NHS is not completely free. The cost comes out of your taxes and National Insurance contributions, but it's still much cheaper than American health insurance.  As a self-employed person, I pay about £150 pounds a year in National Insurance contributions...less than $250 for a full year of unlimited coverage.

Let me give you a basic, black & white example of UK vs. US health care systems:

Mr. Crab takes cholesterol-lowering statins (Zocor, aka Simvastatin). Today, I went to the doctor to get a check-up and results of a recent blood test. I got a same-day appointment, waited 5 minutes in the waiting room before I saw the doctor. I was in and out of the office in 15 minutes. When I left the office, I walked straight out the front door, bypassing the receptionist. That's because in the UK, if you have NHS health care, you DO NOT PAY anything to see a doctor. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

Next, I walked down the street to the Boots pharmacy to fill a 90-day supply of 10mg Simvastatin. I waited 15 minutes for the refill, then paid £7.20, or about $11.97 (low-income NHS patients pay nothing).  When I got home, I went online to Drugstore.com to compare US prices. If I had no insurance, the same supply of Zocor would cost $249.99!  The generic version of the drug is much cheaper at $49.97, but that's still about $38 more than we pay in the UK for the exact same drug. 

Quite frankly, I'm gobsmacked. There is NO excuse or argument for why Americans should have to pay 3x or 20x more than Brits for life-saving drugs.

Sure NHS isn't perfect. It's great for everyday stuff like physicals, prescription drugs, and minor ailments like cold or swine flu. But as some of my friends can attest, NHS has much to be desired if you need a specialist doctor or non-emergency surgery; the wait-time for surgery can be months, a year or longer. 

NHS is not perfect. But choosing NO health care over universal health care, I'll take the universal health care any day.