Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Kids With Special Needs Around The World: England
Stacie is mom to May, an 18-month-old with cerebral palsy and the focus of Stacie's inspiring blog Mama Lewis (and the amazing adventures of the half-brained baby). "We were told she might never eat or hold her head up, let alone enjoy a vigorous bounce," Stacie says. "She continues to defy all these original predictions." Originally from Detroit, Stacie moved to England 11 years ago to be with her husband, who's Welsh. They're both teachers. I hope you find this fourth installment in the Kids With Special Needs Around The World series as interesting as I did. Warning: You may be stricken with a sudden urge to move to England.
Last summer, while visiting my family in Michigan, my daughter was admitted for an overnight observation at a children’s hospital. We shared a room with a grandmother and her very ill four-year-old grandson, separated by a thin blue curtain and a wealth of insurance.
The following morning, after the doctor’s rounds, the two of them disappeared. I returned to the room after making a call on my cell phone to find their side vacant.
“Where did they go?” I asked my husband.
“Their insurance ran out,” he said, forlornly.
My jaw dropped. I had forgotten this terrible fact about the Land of the Free.
For the past 12 years, I have lived in Britain, the land of socialized medicine. Last year, when my daughter was born with brain damage, we never consulted our insurance to see what they would and would not pay for. Here, there is no insurance, everything from vacinnations to an MRI brain scan is covered by the National Health Service (NHS).
Besides, what was there to question? My daughter needed 24-hour care for as long as it took. She needed specialised equipment and machines to monitor her and help her breath and eat. If she needed a test, she got it. If the doctors wanted to retest, the only okay we needed was from the receptionist booking the appointments.
The generosity of services followed us home. Her specialised chair to eat and play in (cost: almost £2,000/$3,600) was paid for by the government, along with a duplicate that resides in her nursery. She also receives one-on-one care at her nursery that is paid for by the government. Everything, from her therapies (and she has a physio, OT, dietician and visual therapist) to her medicines (and she is on four different ones) is covered.
Not subsidised. The policy of health care in Britain is that it is free on the point of delivery.
When I explain to my British friends, all of whom also pay a percentage of their income towards the NHS, that in the States you pay insurance every month and then when you go to the doctors or have an x-ray or are admitted to the hospital, you pay in addition to that, they look at me like I am crazy.
Concerns that we sacrifice standards for all this “free” stuff are unfounded. A 2010 report by the Commonwealth Fund comparing Britain’s health care system to seven other countries including America, placed us second and the U.S. last. The U.S. spends over twice as much per person as we do, and yet they came last or sixth in every category including access, quality of care and efficiency. In contrast, we came sixth in only one category, Long, Healthy Lives. In the same category, the U.S. again came last.
Sure, there are some aspects of health care here that annoy me. I can’t make an appointment to see a specialist – I always have to see a general physician or May’s neurologist first and convince them to write a referral. Once made, referrals always go missing. Always. That is very frustrating to an American. Weeks or months can pass before we receive what could have taken days.
Also, I wonder: Would it be as hard to get May into a nursery in America? In the States, disabled children attend “normal” school. Here they are encouraged not to. That is an entirely different attitude I don’t think I’ll ever understand.
Despite all this, I am grateful that my daughter lives in a country that is more concerned about her health than profit.
Before May, I preferred to live in Britain, but now, I feel I have no choice. I worry that the major cuts the British government announced the other week will restrict May’s access to everything she needs. But there will never be a time when May is refused treatment or sent home early from the hospital when she is still unwell.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 12:05 AM