The Common Good

Hip-Hip-Hooray for Belgium!

Opponents of Obamacare like to talk about how long it takes to get a hip replacement in, say, Canada —even though the Affordable Care Act is nothing like the Canadian health plan. Let's put this in perspective. How about a system that charges so much that some middle-class insured people can't afford a hip replacement at all?

... Unless they fly to a Western European country with "socialized" medicine and pay out-of-pocket?

Puzzle of human skeleton with missing portion of hip. Photo courtesy Lightspring
Puzzle of human skeleton with missing portion of hip. Photo courtesy Lightspring/shutterstock.com

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Check out this story about Michael Shopenn, a man whose artificial hip was manufactured in Warsaw, Indiana, a "global center of joint manufacturing." Shopenn, who had health insurance, could not get coverage for a hip operation because his insurer deemed it a pre-existing condition (note: that should no longer be a problem under the ACA). So he ended up flying to Belgium.

A Belgian citizen with no supplementary insurance would have paid only 25-50 percent of what this American paid for "not only a hip joint, made by Warsaw-based Zimmer Holdings, but also all doctors’ fees, operating room charges, crutches, medicine, a hospital room for five days, [and] a week in rehab." And the Belgian would not have had to add airfare to the rest of the cost.

But for Schopenn, even this Belgian tab was a good deal — far, far less than he would have paid in the U.S., and no more than his co-pay would have been had his insurer been willing to cover the surgery.

If you're curious about Belgian healthcare, you can read about it here.

And yes, Belgian taxes are high. But if you total up American taxes (income, Social Security, Medicare, property, sales) and add them to the cost of American health insurance (what you pay and what your employer pays), you may notice that we Americans are spending a lot of money for our services, too — whether we can afford to use them or not. Maybe even more than the Belgians.

LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

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