When I tell people here that Connery was born in Prague, I inevitably get the question of whether I was scared to give birth in a place like the Czech Republic. My answer is always the same: If it came down to a choice just of the better place to have a baby, I would do it in the Czech Republic again in a heartbeat. There's just no comparison.
I was reminded of this today when I visited Am's blog and noticed she had spoken her $.02 about the sorry state of America's healthcare system. Her impetus was a new report out by Save the Children that ranks the U.S. more or less dead last among industrialized nations in terms of infant mortality. As she says, we only beat Latvia. Japan is first (i.e. with the lowest rate), and guess which small Central European nation ranks second? That's right, the Czech Republic.
I remember at some point last year that a debate raged on Soulcysters about why the U.S. has such a high infant mortality rate. Some very nasty things were said about Croatia, as I remember, including (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the reason that the post-communist countries had such overall low infant mortality was because they had all taken on the godlessness of communism and were aborting potentially unhealthy infants instead of birthing them. There were other theories as well, though that one sticks in my mind most firmly. The crux of the argument that eventually caused the thread to be closed as a too-nasty debate came down between those who felt that so-called socialized medicine could in no way take credit for these countries kicking America's ass in this health standard and those who thought that just maybe those crazy Europeans were on to something.
I'll say this about my experience with socialized medicine: Bring it on. Absolutely I paid higher taxes in the Czech Republic while I was living and working there, but there is no way that what I paid in taxes even comes close to what we're paying out now in premiums, deductibles, and prescriptions. It's like night and day. And when I needed my insurance to work--when we had Connery--I didn't have to fill out any paperwork, file any forms, endure endless bills and statements of coverage and non-coverage, it was just covered. I paid cash for a private room for five nights--the standard maternity stay in the Czech Republic for a non-C-section birth--and everything else, from Connery's nursery care to painkillers to meals, was covered.
Oh, and that private room? It was about $100 total for the stay.
Before I gave birth, I went on paid maternity leave, as required by the state, about a month before my due date. After I got home from the hospital I had another six months of paid leave at two-thirds of my salary. After that paid leave was up, I continued to get "baby payments" of around $150 a month. I would have continued to get those so long as I remained in the Czech Republic, up to four years after Connery was born.
I chose to have a private doctor for my prenatal care, so I paid about $30 a visit to see her. That was my total cost, not a co-pay. When I developed a mild case of gestational diabetes, I had to go get weekly tests and have further appointments at the country's finest maternity hospital. That was free to me with my state insurance.
The barriers to accessing healthcare were very low in Prague, provided you were willing to learn the language. I didn't need to have a dime in my pocket to see a specialist, treat a cold, or have my annual exam. The hospitals may not have been as shiny as the ones here, but the care was great and the price was right.
When people defend our system, they often say that people from all over the world fly in to see our doctors and visit our healthcare centers, and they're right. Rich people will always get great care in the United States. If you have money, there is no better place to be sick. But if you don't have money and/or you don't have insurance, it's surely one of the industrialized world's worst places to be ill. Financial ruin is sitting in the background of nearly every decision an American makes about healthcare. If you don't think that causes stress, then you've probably never experienced it.
So why is it that Britons are healthier than Americans? Why do the Czechs have healthier babies? It couldn't be the scourge of socialized medicine, could it?