I love my country. There is nothing that reminds me of that more than going away for a lengthy period of time, especially to a country that is not as wealthy as the U.S. At the same time, because I love my country, it saddens me to see the inequities that exist for basic human services back home.
Next door to my beautiful home city of San Diego, California, is my other home, Mexico. I live a life with my feet on both sides of this border and I consider myself lucky to be able to do so at this moment in my life.
My recent travels to Philippines was a joy but one thing I am reminded of with each return is that my system is highly accustomed to fresh clean air and temperate climates. Three weeks in the Philippines is filled with humidity and extreme heat, coupled with blasting AC, pollution, cab rides, jeepneys, island hoping flights, and a variety of air fresheners. This last one might give you a chuckle but this is something that is not to be ignored.
I tell you this to illustrate what has led me to question our logic behind healthcare in the States. After a week after my return, trying to deny that I had anything more than a common cold from traveling, I found myself feeling like I was drowning, barely able to take in anything more than a short breath and a cough that was so shallow that I couldn’t to clear my lungs. Talking was exhausting and sleep was horribly difficult.
In bed for a week, I had had enough. I got up and had my husband drive me to the local Farmacias Similares, a pharmacy chain in Mexico that employs doctors to maintain hours in an adjacent office for medical consults. I waited alongside the other patients in a white corridor for my turn to see the doctor. Within 10 minutes of talking with me (yes, in English) and listening to my chest, the doctor had determined I had a serious case of bronchitis and a throat infection. He wrote me a prescription for 4 days of antibiotic shots, a cough medication and suggested I use a nebulizer with saline solution for a few days.
Dr. Appt. : 100 pesos ($5.25 USD)
Medications: 250 pesos ( $13 USD)
3 follow up appts. for antibiotic injections: 120 pesos ( $6.30 USD)
GRAND TOTAL : $24.55 USD
I am on my last day of antibiotic shots and I went from feeling 20% to 90% myself in just these last 3 days.
In California, it cost my family on average $8,000 per year just to have the privilege of requesting an appointment from a doctor within our insurance plan, then tack on top of that the co-pay from $20 – $50 per visit. For the average family, 90% of annual visits are with a general practitioner for things like minor colds, flu shots, vaccines, ear infections, and things of this sort.
Let’s compare the experience. I was seen and treated with much less hassle and money than is even imaginable in the U.S. healthcare system. I didn’t have to wrangle an appointment with a scheduler to get me in to be seen by a nurse practitioner to avoid a week wait time for the doctor. I was seen nearly immediately. I didn’t pay out the nose to be seen by the doctor for a diagnosis for something that is relatively common.
I cannot attest to the care and quality of more complicated health issues in Mexico but what I recognize is that MOST of the Mexican population has access to basic, affordable healthcare. I have not explored the obstacles for creating this ease of access but I know there is something here we should be paying attention to.
How can we live in the United States of America and not create some system of providing access to basic services for EVERYONE for what makes up 90% of our doctor visits throughout a year? Those below the poverty line have very little ability to be seen by a doctor, much less afford medications in the current healthcare system. Insurance is so costly that it eats into much needed income that could instead be used to provide for a family or in my case pay for a year of college tuition for one of my children.
What are we settling for? How have we managed to accept handing over our rights to basic health services to greedy insurance companies and government entities who will not conceive of a different system to make our nation healthy? I understand that the more complicated ailments are a difficult issue to tackle when it comes to our system but I’m not approaching that monster. I am simply talking about simple services for all just to keep a healthy baseline for our general population. Doesn’t it make economic sense to elevate the basic health of our population so as to lessen the burden on our people and prevent compounded, more expensive and serious illnesses?
If the model in Mexico can work, why can’t we mimic something similar in the United States? Why are we not looking to other countries and evaluating what works and doesn’t, so that we can implement solves? Why are politicians so hell bent on a single “EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN” or nothing plan instead of looking at the easiest and most effective solution to tackling our basic health care issues?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Well, I’m not smart enough to answer that question but I feel like our approach to healthcare is being over-complicated and over-thought. I would love to see some city or small community, create a pilot program to come up with a basic services system that can bring up the general health of its people.
I don’t know if I will see a solution to this problem in my beloved country and this saddens me. As much as I believe we DO have the ability to be the greatest country on the planet, I don’t see us living up to our potential in this way. We have the resources, the creativity and intelligence to to do so much more and lead. Can we not just start with our health?