Friday, January 23, 2009

A peek at what socialized medicine (sometimes) looks like

Almost two weeks ago, 4yo C. had a nasty fall and cut her ear quite badly. As soon I started cleaning up the blood, I knew it needed stitches. We ended up waiting nearly five hours in the emergency room of the only hospital in this city of one million people that will give a child stitches. That is pretty much par for the course everywhere, I know.

A week later, we went back to the same hospital to have the stitches removed. Remembering our emergency-room wait, for which I was ill-prepared, I loaded up with toys and amusements before we headed out. The surgical clinic area, where we had to go, was swamped. There were at least 20 children there, with one or more adults in tow. Toddlers wailed, babies fussed, and parents sat with the resigned expressions on their faces that we recognized so well. Might as well make ourselves comfortable, right?

Krakovian took C.'s papers to the registration desk, and after waiting a while there, the clerk took the papers and handed them right back. You see, we didn't have insurance (translation: we were not enrolled in the Polish National Healthcare System). Therefore, we had to pay for the service first. Krakovian went off to the cashier to pay, while C. and I settled in. (She had a nasty stomach flu three days after our last hospital visit, and I wasn't keen for her to get too close to anyone.)

And then, lo and behold, a surprise. Krakovian returned with his "paid in full" receipt, and the same clerk who had dismissed him 15 minutes before, sent him straight back to the nurse, who led us straight to the doctor (past a dozen waiting parents or more), who had the six stitches removed and sent us on our way in less than the same 15 minutes. I didn't attempt to catch the glances of any of the waiting parents, still seated on benches and in the hallway. I didn't want to see their resigned expressions transform themselves into disgruntled resentment at the fact that, arriving later, we were taken care of before them.

We don't actually KNOW that paying for service sent us to the front of the line, but it is difficult to account for it otherwise. Does anyone think nationalized health care would look much different in the United States? Hoards of people would sign up. Hoards of people would line up for the (far too few) doctors the program pays for. And then hoards of people would wait, and wait, and wait for their turn. Unless they could pay up front and be seen sooner. I've no doubt the system would still work better for those who have the money to pay.

And for the record, it cost about $20 to have the stitches removed. I suspect that getting the front-of-the-line attention in the US would cost a lot, lot more.

And C.'s ear is healing nicely, praise the Lord!


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