January 14, 2013

A Personal Experience of Italian Health Care

Over twenty years of living in Italy certainly influence my reactions to American discussion–and fear–of health care reform. “Socialist!” one friend insists. “Doesn’t go far enough!” another maintains. “My payments are going up!” (Haven’t they gone up every year of your life?) “I’m paying for illegals and people who don’t work.” On and on. People became so polarized so early that the actual situation seems to be more a matter of opinion rather than fact.

If you’ve lived in other countries, you just have to think “Blinders!” Our system is so antiquated. Click on this boggling chart of health cost and rankings around the world: http://www.businessinsider.com/best-healthcare-systems-in-the-world-2012-6?op=1

I want to share a Christmas letter–last year’s letter, but so far nothing has changed and does not seem likely to– from fellow-expat Cortona friends about what it’s like to live where health care is administered through the government.

I know our reform is not government centered, beyond the requirement that one obtain insurance, so I’m not suggesting that Italy’s system reflects what the USA system is heading toward–or might aspire to.  Ours will remain market-driven. Definitely not “socialist.”  Our friends at the insurance companies are set to profit hugely by the requirement to buy health coverage. Clearly, that when people must obtain insurance, less will be needed by the government to  pay for those who do use the emergency room as their only healthcare.  Rising medical costs are the big fat elephant in the living room. A pity that they get rolled into any discussion of the cost of insurance.

I’m posting this for your interest. Please don’t tell me that Italy is going bankrupt, etc.!! (In my opinion, they are not–so much of the economy there is hidden. But that’s another story, and not one I’m likely to take on, since higher economics is, to me, one of the seven mysteries.)

When I’ve sought medical help in Italy–wasp sting on the face, sciatica, flu–the urgent care has been immediate, extraordinary, and free. Visitors who have had car accidents, broken a pelvis, sustained an eye injury, all had the same experience. There are horror stories everywhere, of course, but I’ve heard far fewer there than in the USA. An Italian friend’s mastectomy fees totaled 25 Euros. My nephew’s recent bout with pneumonia in Atlanta cost $24,000.  Fortunately, he has insurance. If he did not, that cost would ultimately be returned to tax payers.

Back to Italy. Here’s the letter:



It shocks me that the USA is #50 in life expectancy (World Fact Book, The Central Intelligence Agency). Italians live 3.37 years longer–a span of 81.86 years. I hope we all can keep a creative and realistic outlook on health care.  And keep the olive oil and red wine coming!