On Thursday I had my first experience of the US healthcare system as I have been in the US for four months and it was time to find a primary care physician (known as a GP in the UK). Kat added me to her coverage when I emigrated so it was just a matter of choosing a hospital and a doctor and making an appointment. My first impression was a positive one; we were late due to some nasty traffic and it was not even mentioned by the hospital staff. At my previous doctors surgery in the UK the receptionists were dragon ladies who’d let you know that you’d broken the entire health service if you were just thirty seconds late, let alone ten minutes! The reception area was clean and quiet although it was somewhat cluttered by warnings about everything from ebola to explosive diarrhea; the emphasis seemed to be that you shouldn’t turn up to their hospital if you got ill.
It was strange to have to pull out a card and some ID to get medical treatment; I’d never had to do that before in the UK. The registration process was pretty standard except some of the questions were really weird. I was asked my religion and highest level of education. I kind of understand the religious one as some religions have special requirements but why do they need to ask about education? I can scarily imagine a scenario where I’m hanging out of a wrecked car and a paramedic says “lets save this one, he went to college.” We then had to pay a co pay of $15 for the appointment. If you are reading this from the UK the co pay is basically an insurance excess; yes people’s health is dealt with like car insurance in the US. Again it was strange to fork out cash to visit a doctor.
The doctor was a friendly guy and actually an immigrant himself from New Zealand who told me that I was in good shape (a decent blood pressure, weight and heartbeat) which pleased me. He thought that my lack of sleep and stomach cramps that I have been getting could be linked to my move to the US; increased stress and a big life change. He suggested some things that might help which I will try before thinking about medication although much to my disappointment the suggestions included less chocolate and caffeine. We shall see about that! It was nice to see a doctor who understood the potential physical and mental effects of a huge lifestyle change like emigration. As I was leaving he remarked on how cold winters are here and how hard it was to get decent football and cricket here and I nodded understandingly; us expats have a universal bond it seems.
Overall I’d have to say that my first experience of the US healthcare system was a positive one. The US system means that healthcare providers want to treat you well because they want your business and if you don’t like your doctor there are hundreds of alternatives. I am, however, uneasy because we can afford a decent healthcare plan and I know that many people can’t. People moaned about the NHS in the UK but I never found myself suffering from poor healthcare and if I got sick I didn’t have to show ID to prove I could be treated or pay an excess. Sadly universal healthcare will probably never happen in the US, even Obamacare was executed poorly and politics are so polarised in the US that socialised healthcare would probably cause a minor war. I shall try my hardest not to get sick for the next few years!