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Silly “Sickos” Say Europeans

Jul
3
2007

The U.S. health care system is one of those things — like the egregious wearing of flip-flops far from the beach and Cheez Whiz — that leads Europeans to think of you as uncivilized.
One of the points made numerous times in Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko” is that certain things shouldn’t be run as for-profit businesses.
This provokes a big “duh!” on the Old Continent – where health care is one of those things. It’s a public service like schools, the police and libraries.


It is a point worth making explicitly: when health rests in the hands of private insurers you pay into a system that to survive — and profit — cannot maintain your well-being. And has every interest to cut costs when you are sick.
The mechanism is wrong. You don’t expect car insurance to pay for tune-ups or home insurance to punt for missing roof shingles; maintenance is left to the insuree.
Moore’s becapped, shambling figure (looking, frankly, unhealthy although presumably he can afford insurance, decent food and a gym) visits hospitals and pharmacies in London and talks with a particularly sleek group of Parisian expats about Euro-health systems.
He is agog, asking happy new English parents: “You mean you paid nothing to have that baby?” His “Mr. Smith” aw, shucks approach isn’t aging well, either, but the point remains: civilized countries (and even some “uncivilized” ones, but I won’t spoil the ending) consider health care a basic right.
Italy is second in world health care system ratings on a list shown in the movie, right after France. (It’s also third, if you count the freckle-sized Republic of San Marino, nestled in Italy, which took that slot). The current national system came into effect in the late 1970s, about the same time the U.S. started HMO-ing.
Moore did not visit Italy to gawk at its health care system, I suspect because it would’ve required a more nuanced investigation. There are enough horror stories — dirty hospitals, stolen corneas — that the local press has a tag for it, frequently announcing yet another story of “mala sanità,” “bad health care” or “sick health care.”
That said, I can personally confirm a number of health care services in Italy that may seem as foreign to Americans as bottarga or decent tailoring.
As a legal immigrant, I have access to Italian health care. I do not pay a premium.The GP, of my choosing, has never been more than five minutes from my house. Visits are free and as often as necessary. The state health care system covers many prescriptions, too, so they are also free.
As a working adult, I pay a ticket (they use the English word) for things like blood or allergy tests, though it’s never more than 15-20 euros a pop, but not for annual check-ups. There are 24-hour on-call doctors (called the Guardia Medica) and if you call them, they come to your house. It is free. (I know this because of a perfectly good tryst ruined by a few pesky kidney stones). Emergency room visits are also free.
The more nuanced side? Getting health care takes some work. The doctor isn’t in all day, every day. Patients sometimes must insist on drugs covered by the system. (My old doctor, the next palazzo over, had a waiting room as crowded with pharmaceutical reps as patients.) The moms I know — pre-natal care and birth are covered by the system, too — are experts on where the easy epidurals are. There is also a certain amount of “health tourism,” sick people jockeying to hospitals in different parts of the country with areas of expertise or considered better. And while hospitals and surgery are free, it’s not infrequent to see families carting sheets, towels and their own food when they check in.
Still. Better to have it than not. The real question raised, but unanswered, by the movie is how one might break the chokehold business has on the American health care system. Moore makes a point of rubbing out any illusions about Hillary Clinton’s stance on universal health care should she sit in the White House. There’s too much money involved.
Editor’s Note: A view from Spot-on writer Matthew Holt on “Sicko” and European health care systems is here.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 12:04 PM | Permalink

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