Friday, March 14, 2008

A Question About Universal Healthcare

I had to go to the doctor yesterday. Actually, I've needed to go for a while--it's nothing major--but the situation with my father distracted me from my own health concerns. It just didn't seem terribly important under the circumstances.

My doctor asked me the usual doctorly questions about my problem: how long, does it hurt, here are the options. Then he asked me the biggie: why had I waited so long to take care of this problem?

For the most part, I've been coping just fine with my father's death. But there was something about having to tell my physician that made me break down. My doctor then went on to ask me more questions about my condition and interspersed these with questions about my care for my father. Was my mother alive? No. Did I have siblings? Yes. Did they live close? No. And so on.

Finally, at the end of the visit, we discussed treatments, then the doctor looked at me and smiled and said, "Sometimes, the gods look down on us and smile." Then he made a big "X" on my chart and wrote "no charge" at the top.

I was stunned. I have no insurance, largely because it is overpriced for contractors and my husband isn't eligible. In other words, we are among those uninsured Americans who have chosen not to get insurance because of its various prohibitive properties (including ineligibility). My doctor knew this and took pity on me, given current circumstances. His kindness saved me $70 for the office visit, plus about $110 in X-ray costs.

Here's my question: how compassionate are doctors under universal healthcare, where patients aren't paying for their care? I've never seen a doctor wave fees when a patient has insurance, yet, I know for a fact that doctors regularly wave their fees for private pay patients. It's just another way doctors--those big, bad, greedy doctors--show compassion and concern for their patients. How do doctors who are overworked and underpaid in universal healthcare systems (and I've been a patient in some) show that sort of sympathy?