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Money is the lifeblood of healthcare in the US | Letters




I live in the United States, and everything Arwa Mahdawi says about his unpredictable and cruelly expensive healthcare industry is familiar (My wife almost died because I delayed an ER visit – but there’s a reason which I avoid American hospitals, October 25). An unforeseen event during a recent holiday gave me a close look at healthcare in Britain. I had a heart attack and was admitted to Royal United Hospitals in Bath. From admission to discharge, I witnessed the impressive competence and unwavering friendliness of NHS staff.

In no time, it seems, they identified and stented a blocked artery, and got me into a coronary unit where I was closely monitored — and given a cup of tea.

How wonderful that the patients around me don’t wonder if they would be discharged as soon as they stabilized because they couldn’t afford the full treatment, or if they could afford the drugs they would have needed after discharge, or whether the hospital would turn them over to a collection agency for non-payment. Ask Americans about medical bankruptcy and they’ll know exactly what you mean.

As the new UK government sets priorities and allocates resources, it should seize this opportunity to take care of the NHS as it takes care of everyone else.
Carole Newhouse
Ballston Spa, New York, USA

Arwa Mahdawi’s story underscores a chilling truth about America: our health care system is dangerously sick and the prognosis is getting worse. An account of two appendectomies highlights the decline. On vacation in 1996, I left my appendix in San Francisco. Other than having to wait until 5 a.m. for us to get the all-clear from insurance to go to the ER, my appendectomy experience was straightforward. We paid a little co-payment and made jokes about Tony Bennett, and moved on.

Seventeen years later, my wife had her appendix removed by mistake at a North Carolina hospital because the surgeon hadn’t read her CT scan results. Five surgeries, numerous hospital stays, tens of thousands of dollars, and seven months later my wife was (mostly) physically recovered. At no time did anyone acknowledge the mistakes made. At each stage, we paid a lot of money for suboptimal care.

We have learned to defend ourselves and our own results. And we pay an outrageous amount in monthly premiums and shared care costs for this privilege. It is inaccurate to say that the American healthcare system is broken. It works exactly as designed and maintained.
Kevin Reeve
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

I lived in the United States for 50 years, and now in England for five years. In the United States, about 10% of people do not have health insurance and therefore have precarious access to care – a scandal. The promise of universal care in the NHS is part of a civilized society. But is the promise kept? Arwa Mahdawi tells of a friend in the United States who was denied payment by her insurance and had to argue on the phone for hours to get it resolved. In the UK, making an appointment with a GP can take several hours, sometimes days.

My wife and I recently had a medical emergency in Philadelphia when she broke her humerus. An ambulance arrived within 15 minutes. At the hospital, she was seen by an emergency doctor within 45 minutes, then underwent X-rays and a consultation with a specialist. It all took about four hours. Is this an NHS experience?

It had nothing to do with being paying customers. The ambulance service did not know our status and the hospital provided the service in advance without immediate request for payment. The cost of health insurance in the United States is high, but medical care is not free in the United Kingdom. We pay a much higher tax rate here. I’m happy to pay for everyone to have access, but the NHS is barely delivering on its promise of universal care. How many people give up seeing their GP and live with a treatable disease? How many can’t wait for an ambulance for an inhuman amount of time? Both societies must provide universal access to good quality health care. Neither succeeds.
Jorge Rogachevsky
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

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