Filed under: Current Events
Here is a person’s true story and experience with socialized health care in Spain. It is sort of a hybrid where the private sector still exists but is not so powerful as to assign health care as a privilege to certain people whether they are wealthy or come from a privileged ethnic background or “race”. In the U.S., it is mostly racialized “minorities” that lack access to good health care and education. If the playing field is ever to be equal and if there is to be equal opportunity for all U.S. citizens, there has to be a safety net with education and health care. People who are educated, physically/mentally healthy, can make better decisions and can live healthier, fuller, and more productive lives whether through work or other creative contributions that can benefit society as a whole.
Socialized Health Care
A member of our College of Charleston student group sustained a recent injury (luckily it turned out to be a contusion) that was painful enough to warrant medical attention and potential x-rays. We visited the emergency room in the brand spanking new Trujillo hospital, coincidentally christened earlier that very morning by the President of the Extremadura region, Guillermo Fernández. The staff greeted us in a friendly and cheerful manner, teasing my young son who was with us and joking about trying to pronounce the student’s foreign sounding name in English, saying that they were still only in beginning English classes. We offered information about the travel health insurance policy that the students have and I mentioned that we’d be happy to pay any fees with a credit card. The staff waived away our offers immediately and with humor. “We couldn’t make you pay even if we wanted to! There are no cash registers or credit card machines here. We don’t even need your address! This is socialized medicine. We’ll fix you up, of course. Have a seat and we’ll call you in to see the doctor in a minute.” We hardly waited the full 60 seconds before an orderly came for us. The doctor was friendly, efficient and patient with our attempts to describe what had taken place in a mix of English/Spanish translation. Some poking and prodding and off we went to the x-ray ward. Less than 15 minutes later, x-rays in hand, we were chatting with the doctor, looking at the x-rays together and relieved to know that no fracture had occurred. Pain-killers in hand and clear instructions on how to proceed, we were warmly escorted to the door and wished well. We didn’t pay a cent, nor will we. The care we received was prompt, competent, caring and efficient.
Doctors earn a good salary but aren’t wealthy in Spain – they are paid more like a public servant – what would be considered middle class in the US. Many Spanish doctors who work in the socialized medical system also have private practices on the side in which they see patients with private health insurance or wealthier clientele that don’t want to wait for appointments for optional procedures and prefer to pay out of pocket for more personalized and immediate attention. In this way doctors can earn extra money and can specialize if they choose to. Spain therefore has a hybridized system of social security and private medicine. In larger cities, such as Madrid, waits for non life threatening emergency care can be considerably longer than the grand total of 25 minutes that we spent in the emergency room at the Trujillo hospital! None-the-less, what a comforting, wonderful feeling to know that there is a social safety net here – that if something urgent and unfortunate happens, from car wreck to heart attack, one will not be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills – regardless of one’s socio-economic class or the absence of private health insurance. Oh, and medicines here are extremely affordable. Example: 7 doses of children’s liquid ibuprofen in the US cost approximately $7. In Spain, a 20 dose bottle costs $2.50. Antibiotic prescriptions are less than $5. Are taxes higher here in Spain to cover socialized medicine? Depends… the wealthy are taxed more, yes, up to 50% or more on income. Middle class tax rates are roughly equivalent to those in the US. In Charleston our family of four pays over $700 a month for medical insurance and the visit to the ER would still have cost us the $125 co-pay plus 10% of the hospital bill… not to mention the time it would have taken to ensure that our paperwork was in order before during and after our visit with the doctor. The painkillers would have required an expensive prescription. For non-urgent, socialized medical care in Spain, citizens have a social security card that shows they are officially registered in the system. Our family once paid taxes in Spain and is fortunate to be registered in the Spanish system. Should a serious health complication arise, we dream of coming to Spain for treatment. Free chemotherapy for cancer patients in Spanish hospitals like Gorka’s mother had versus the $7000 weekly sessions my mother had in New England? Food for thought.