Outback health care

Last week, my uncle,  ill and miserable, spent seven hours stuck in an emergency room before he was admitted to the hospital. He’s 84 and for him and his wife who was there as his advocate, it was not a pleasant experience. I couldn’t help but think about our American health care system. Few would disagree that it is in a state of flux. Some say it’s horribly broken. Others say we’re headed for medical Armageddon. No one, however, disagrees that change is needed. Certainly, not my uncle.

Whenever a problem like health care or the national debt or immigration piques our national attention, it leads to an flood of opinions (some considered and some not). The degree of rancor and the distribution of misinformation from all quarters is frustrating and mostly useless, if not destructive.

Sometimes we need to step back and think reasonably. To do so means learning about and considering other points of view — a novel approach, I know.

Earlier this year, I had some email conversations with psychology graduate Jennifer Stanley Dunkle (’78). Jennifer is a licensed professional counselor and for the past eight years, she’s worked as the intake coordinator for a psychiatric hospital. After leaving Madison, she and her family lived in New Zealand and Australia while she worked on and off in the travel industry and raised her two children. Jennifer says, by the way, that the best part of her Madison Experience was friendship with her roommate Karen Greene Copper (’79).

While abroad, Jennifer experienced first hand a different health care system. Her experience is informative and interesting. And as you’ll read, she is doing more than talking. Jennifer is taking what she’s learned and is actively involved in changing and improving health care for others.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say…

My family and I lived in New Zealand and Australia between 1995 and 2000.  We were permanent residents of Australia and then became dual-citizens, American and Australian.  Therefore we were eligible to participate in their health care system and got to experience it first hand.  I was very impressed because ALL permanent residents and citizens are eligible for their Medicare system — nobody is left out.  Unlike our country, nobody has to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills.  Rarely would anyone die prematurely due to a lack of access to medical care (this happens to about 45,000 Americans per year, according to Physicians for a National Health Program).  All pregnant women have access to prenatal care, and all children have access to well-child check-ups and immunizations.  Adults can get physicals and needed lab tests every year as well.

Everyone can choose their own doctor.  Most doctors are privately employed. Typically, one would pay the doctor (a much more reasonable rate than it is here), and then take the receipt to the local Medicare office to be reimbursed about 85% of the cost. Prescriptions cost no more than about $32.00 AUD per month.  (Low-income people paid even less, and some clinics would “bulk-bill” the government for the cost of seeing a doctor, so that the patient didn’t have to pay anything).

There are public hospitals and private hospitals. For those earning over a certain income, the government encourages them to buy private hospitalization insurance; otherwise they pay a tax penalty. But you can go to a public hospital if you want to. Emergencies and urgent needs are obviously seen right away.  There might be a slight wait for elective surgery, but it wasn’t usually too bad. For example, I had elective bunion surgery at a public hospital and only had to wait a couple of months.  There was no out-of-pocket cost for this surgery whatsoever.

Australia uses a “single-payer” system, meaning that the government collects taxes for Medicare and then pays the doctors, pharmacies, and public hospitals.  Administrative costs are much less than they are here, where we have thousands of for-profit insurance companies, all of which have different pre-authorization and billing procedures.

Other countries, such as Australia, are definitely faced with the increasing costs of health care, but they have health care for all of their citizens.

So, when we moved back to the States I became involved in a group at my church, trying to help move our country toward universal health care.  This group is called the Health Care Justice Action Team.  We write to and speak with legislators, have an information table set up in our church social hall, and give presentations at church and in the community for the public and for business groups.

Despite the passage of last year’s health care bill, it is unfortunately rather flawed and is a far cry from universal coverage. It doesn’t do enough to contain the spiraling costs in health care.  So we still have a lot of work ahead of us!

So, do you agree with Jennifer?  Is your experience different? My uncle’s experience certainly was. He’s better now, but not so the long ER waits that sadly are common. Do you have thoughtful perspectives to bring to the table? If so, let us know.

To read about other JMU people involved in health care, go to: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/healthcare.shtml

You can also read more about the Physicians for National Health Care Program at:  http://www.pnhp.org


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Outback health care

  1. Jan Gillis says:

    Enjoyed reading Jennifer’s insights. My niece married an Aussie and lives in Australia. Her experience with healthcare in that country mirrors Jennifer’s. I was particularly heartened to hear of the level of prenatal care she received and what her children have as routine care. Judging from her experience, I’d say the “down under” approach is a “cut above” our own.


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