I am in shock. I have just paid the bill for J’s 1 year check and MMR. It is huge. So huge, I cannot bring myself to type the number. In the UK I would have taken J to the rather run down health centre and waited in a bland room filled with plastic chairs, peeling paintwork and been reluctant to touch anything. But it was free. Every part of J’s medical life had been free, my prenatal care and his birth at one of the best teaching hospitals in central London, the checks by the health visitor and all his immunisations. If I wanted to weigh him, all I had to do was turn up at the clinic and do it myself. If was concerned about his health, I just made an appointment with the GP who may or may not have been that interested, but I hoped would know more than me and send me away reassured.
The contrast with New York couldn’t be greater. J doesn’t see a GP in a normal surgery, he has a paediatrician in a paediatric practice (trouble spelling that one). Every step of the 40 minute 1 year check is itemised on the bill. It still has plastic chairs and I’m still reluctant to touch anything or let J crawl anywhere, so no difference there. I speak to a French lady with twins and a 9 month old in the waiting room. She sees me looking wide eyed at my bill and offers her own experience. Her twins were in hospital for 4 weeks after they were born early and for this the hospital presented her with a bill for $350,000 for EACH child. Unsurprisingly her health insurer was reluctant to pay but she said they did, in the end.
I find myself reaching for my political history, reminding myself about Nye Bevan, socialist and youngest Minister in Attlee’s ground breaking Labour administration in 1945. It was Bevan, as Minister of Health, who took the National Health Service Bill through Parliament and is known as the founder of the NHS. I know it’s changed a lot and I don’t pretend to be any expert on what’s happening with it under the current Government and I know it’s paid for through tax and National Insurance. There is something quite comforting about knowing you don’t have to worry about the cost before you access the NHS but now that I know how bankrupting it can be, perhaps the peeling paintwork and dreary waiting rooms in the UK aren’t so bad after all.