Argues that Obama's healthcare plan is similar to his economic policies -- in support of corporate interests. Compares broken American system to healthcare in Austria.
Nearly three years ago,
living then in the over-regulated enclave of Santa Monica California, I had enough, and decided to give life in Europe a try. Having relative fluency in German (as
the child of World War II transplants from Germany) and a small network of
friends in Vienna, Austria through my past work as a museum curator, I chose
Vienna as the place for my European "trial-run."
Shortly after settling into
life in Vienna, I purchased a "private" healthcare plan from one of the major
Austrian insurance companies (Vienna Insurance Group [Wiener Staedtische]). And, now,
nearly three years later, after experiencing the quality of coverage that I am
receiving from my private Austrian
healthcare plan and the Austrian healthcare system itself, I can see more
clearly than ever what is wrong with the American system and why Obamacare,
instead of fixing the damage will actually support those who have gotten us
into this mess (just like the banker bailout!).
Let me begin by saying that a
discussion of the issue of healthcare "insurance" vis-à-vis healthcare itself
must of necessity start with cost. And, in this regard, I can say that with the
exception of "major medical," costs, which is to say, hospital care
healthcare costs here in Austria are downright affordable and in some cases
Let me provide a recent
example. I was at home on a Saturday
night and by about 9:30 in the evening, what began as a seemingly minor skin
problem, began escalating. I phoned a Viennese friend who lives around the
corner and she thought that to be on the safe side, I should go to the hospital
at once. It turns out there is a central number here that you can call to find
out which hospital can best treat your problem (different hospitals here have
different kinds of "clinics" and some are stronger in certain areas). The person at the central number recommended that I go to the Rudolfstiftung in the 3rd District, as
this hospital was considered best for skin.
So my friend picked me up and
took me over to the Rudolfstiftung. She insisted on coming in to the hospital
with me, as this was my first experience with a Viennese hospital. I was pleasantly surprised to discover
a very different "system" in Viennese hospitals from the American "emergency
room" system. We entered a special part of the hospital where you go for immediate
advice and/or treatment. But instead of one central "emergency room," there are
all kinds of clinics with different specialties. Moreover, these "clinics" are
separate from the "central" emergency room, which is only for immediate life
threatening situations (heart attacks, car accidents, etc.).
Check-in to this 24/7 clinic
was extremely efficient; despite about four people ahead of us, it only took a
few minutes to get to the front of the line. The very helpful woman at the desk
took my information, asked if I had insurance and what kind I had. When I told
her I had private insurance, I was informed that I would receive a bill in the
mail in the next few months (Austria tends to be extremely laid back even when it
comes to billing and so happily you often don't get your bills until months after
receiving the service). My friend
asked what the charge would be for the visit to the clinic and was told about
46 Euros, which is equal to about $65.00. It took about forty minutes before I
was called in to see a doctor who was competent, efficient and gracious and
accurately diagnosed my problem in about five minutes. But, imagine that only
$65.00 for first-class treatment, after-hours and hassle-free! Can you imagine
paying $65 in the U.S. for a late-night visit in the "emergency room"? Can you
imagine getting to the top of the line in a major hospital in a large city in
The doctor wrote a
prescription for about five different medications that I would be on for
several weeks, so off we trotted to the nearest pharmacy. The way it works in
Austria during after-hours is that all pharmacies post on their door the
nearest "after-hours" pharmacy. When we arrived at that pharmacy, the
pharmacist announced that the medications would be quite costly as kind of
warning, and I was therefore extremely shocked when the bill came to 160 Euros,
which translates into about $225 at today's exchange rate. $225 for several weeks of five kinds of
medications? Can you imagine what the cost would be for this in the United
Doctors' visits here in
Vienna are equally low-cost compared to the U.S. The "normal" charge to see a
doctor is 50 - 60 Euros, which translates into between $70 and $84 and that is
calculated on the basis of a currently very weak dollar! But, get this follow-up visits, where
the doctor has to add a procedure, or just check in with you, or do a minor
procedure like give you a vaccine, are usually about 10 Euros, which is to say,
$14. And, with my doctor, who offers both regular and homeopathic medicine
(both covered by my healthcare plan), she freely offers no-charge advice on the
Moreover, lab tests here are
extremely affordable, and you can, for instance, get blood tests that cover
numerous items done for about 100 Euros, which is about $140. A mammogram is
about 100 Euros, again about $140. And with things like blood tests and
mammograms you go to special sites with no appointment, but never have to wait
more than about ten minutes.
The point that I want to make
here is that, completely leaving aside the high quality and efficiency of the
Austrian healthcare system, the prices are so low here that most people can afford to pay for medical costs
out-of-pocket and it is only for major illnesses requiring things like surgery
and hospitalization that health insurance is a necessity.
As is usual in the United
States, the media and all the other hype have the public attention diverted
away from the real problem. With all the emphasis on how many uninsured people
there are in the U.S. and how people are being wiped out because of no health
insurance, there is little or no mention of the fact that the cost of American
healthcare and pharmaceuticals are obscenely inflated!
Ridiculous costs for the most minor procedures and obscene costs for pharmaceuticals; is it any wonder why "they" want now to designate
vitamin supplements as "pharmaceuticals," that will require a doctor's prescription for purchase? And, can
anyone guess what may be at the root of the inflated costs of American healthcare? Might the "healthcare" industry itself be at the root of the problem?
For someone standing outside
the American system, it is clear to see that rather than fixing the problem,
Obamacare is going to facilitate the problem by draining money out of the
American economy in order to support and give the heads-up to an extremely
corrupt healthcare "industry" focused on the corporate "bottom-line" of
"minimizing expenses and maximizing profits." (See excellent article by Peter
Schiff, "Prescription for Disaster," LewRockwell, July 18, 2009, http://www.lewrockwell.com/schiff/schiff35.1.html)
Let me conclude with a word
on private healthcare insurance in Austria. Having chosen the very best (1st
tier) plan which includes private room in a private hospital of my choice (100%
coverage with 1,200 Euro deductible [$1,691]), 80% reimbursement for all
doctor's visits, medications, lab tests and which allows "conventional" as well
as unconventional medical treatments (homeopathic, "Chinese," and a host of other
alternative treatments), I pay 479 Euros per month, which translates into $675
at today's exchange rate. This health package also includes a complete dental
plan (albeit with yearly limits), a complete eye plan (with limits) as well as
complete coverage if I need any kind of care, prescription drugs or whatever in
a foreign country (including the U.S.), and, it includes a once-a-year visit of three days to a wellness center hotel (including cost of hotel, all meals and all treatments!) in the Alps or, alternatively, a three-month
enrollment in a local diet or fitness program!
There is another key item
here which enters into the "equation" of health costs in Austria and that is
the issue of mal-practice, but
more to the point, -- mal-practice insurance. "Mal-practice" is another one of those "invented"
issues with a distinct American pedigree; and one of countless examples where
the insurance industry is in bed with some other entity, in this case, the
legal profession. Now you might ask, "why would the insurance industry want to
make big payouts to attorneys, thus supporting the American craze for medical
lawsuits?" The answer is simple
it is the ever-looming threat of mal-practice lawsuits on the American medical
landscape that allows the insurance companies to rake in excessive sums of money
from doctors, pharmacists, and you name it for insurance company "protection."
Sort of like the old Mafia system of extorting money from businesses as
"protection" money "you better pay us these exorbitant 'protection' fees or
you'll be vulnerable next time you're hit by that mal-practice suit -- and
we'll make sure you are!" But, the key point here is that a prime contributing
element to the inflated costs attached to all aspects of American healthcare
are the "hidden" costs (to consumers) of insurance company "protection" fees
for potential mal-practice suits
conjured up by the marriage made in heaven between the legal and healthcare
One of the many items keeping
all kinds of healthcare related costs down in Austria is the near absence of
the marriage between the healthcare "industry" and the legal profession. Moreover, the insurance industry here is highly, highly regulated and does not get away with all the unsavory practices so typical of the American insurance industry. As a result, doctors in Austria do not
hesitate to give you gratis
"advice" over the phone; walk into any pharmacy with something that is ailing
you and tell them about it and more likely than not they'll give you gratis advice and even an over-the-counter medication based
on their advice. In one instance, I went to a pharmacist to buy something to
extract a tick from my dog, and the pharmacist insisted on getting down on the
floor with the dog to look at the tick and spent half an hour removing it
with no charge of course!
Perhaps the most telling
aspect of Obamacare is what we hear from Obama himself and our Congressional
representatives regarding "Obamacare."
President Obama was interviewed on July 15 on an ABC "Healthcare
Special." When asked if he and his
family would give up their current healthcare program and join the new
"universal healthcare" program, Obama ignored the question and did not answer
it. Then, a number of Senators
were asked the same question, and their response was, "we'll think about it."
It was also announced that the "Kennedy Healthcare Bill" has a clause written
into it stating that members of Congress would be exempt from the new
government "universal healthcare" program.
But, the rest of the America?
All Americans will be forced to
join the government "universal healthcare" program and will not be allowed to
purchase private insurance; all Americans who do not buy into "the program"
will have to pay a penalty in the form of a 2 ½% tax on their income. (See,
"Here Comes Obamacare," New York Post,
July 16, 2009, http://www.nypost.com/seven/07162009/postopinion/editorials/here_comes_obamacare_179451.htm)
Does this proposal not have the same "smell" as the previous Bush idea of
"forcing" Americans to turn their Social Security "plans" over to the
government which in turn would invest this money at its own discretion? A whiff
of Soviet one [lousy]-size fits all?
Is "ObamaCare" about
improving healthcare for American citizens or is it a kind of "bailout" for the
American healthcare industry? Make
no mistake, like the "Bankster" bailout and what followed, the Obama healthcare
plan is not just about lining the
pockets of the already bloated healthcare industry, it is also about turning
over to these gangsters total
control of the health and well being of all the American people . The healthcare industry is
nothing less than one more instance of "corporatism" (based on the "cost-savings" model) which is a corporate/government partnership,
indeed, Mussolini's definition of "fascism." Or, to put it in today's most
appropriate context, Obama's insurance plan for Americans is nothing less than
a "healthcare industry bailout package."
In bold contrast to the
corporate/government "fascist" mode, the true free market mode offers
choices and competition that drives prices down and quality up. But, Obamacare
will shut down choice and the mechanisms required for quality, leaving the
American citizenry with something along the lines of post-Hurricane Katrina
"care" by the government. American
citizens are now being "herded" from the frying-pan-into-the-fire in the same way
that the citizens of New Orleans were herded into the Superdome in the wake of
If the American public wants
to get a true sense of what's in store for them with Obamacare, just listen to
Obama himself, who on the ABC health special (July 15) stated that if your
mother breaks her hip, it might be better to give her pain pills (see "Health
cartoon was downright scary," Mlive, July 18, 2009, http://www.mlive.com/opinion/flint/index.ssf/2009/07/health_care_cartoon_was_downri.html).
I am reminded here of Dennis Kucinich grilling Goldman Sachs's Kashkari on
November 14, 2008 and saying to him, "I don't think anyone questions Mr.
Kahkari that you're working hard, our question is, who your working for?"
President Obama is clearly convinced that his healthcare solution presently
before Congress will "work," but, to use the "logic" of Dennis Kucinich, the
more important question is -- for whom will this plan be working?
Hold a doctorate in art history from U.C. Berkeley (1981) with specialty in Renaissance and Baroque art. Have been a college/university professor and have also worked as a museum curator and in museum education. Since 9/11 have been preoccupied with political/economic issues. Have worked for some major organizations/institutions that gave me a real insider's view of many of the horrors and deceptions that have progressively become more and more "normal" in the U.S. In 2006, I relocated to Vienna, Austria, where I am discovering a life that is free of many of the ridiculous regulations and obsessions that are destroying the United States.