A family member recently spent 11 days at the Hospital Provincial de Pontevedra, in Galicia, Spain. During his time there, he ate healthy food, had two people help him shower every morning, and did a series of tests, including a CAT, blood tests, a colonoscopy, and gastroscopy. He also had an iron injection, was offered a blood transfusion, and an ambulance service was provided on three occasions. For this, he paid nothing. The medication he needed to treat is illness when he left was also included.
According to a U.S. government website, if you need to stay in an American hospital for three days, you would need to pay about $30,000, so for the 11 days my relative spent in the Pontevedra hospital, he would have had to pay in the region of $111.000.
Unlike Spain and other European nations, the U.S. government does not provide health benefits to citizens or visitors, and when medical care is needed, someone has to pay for it. For my relative, costs were never a worry, and therefore both family and patient could focus on his health and recovery.
The U.S. health system is excellent, and the country enjoys some of the best hospitals money can buy. However, not everyone can afford them. In an article published by Harvard Medical School, Rober H. Shmerking, MD, argues that the high cost of medical care does not equal high quality.
"Despite spending far more on healthcare than other high-income nations, the U.S. scores poorly on many key health measures, including life expectancy, preventable hospital admissions, suicide, and maternal mortality. And for all that expense, satisfaction with the current healthcare system is relatively low in the U.S."
The Census Bureau reports that 27.2 million people do not have health insurance. As expected, it is mainly low-income families that are denied access to primary healthcare services and have to rely on emergency departments to treat chronic diseases.
According to a study by the KFF ,"in 2021, 64% of uninsured adults said that they were uninsured because the cost of coverage was too high. Many people do not have access to coverage through a job, and some people, particularly poor adults in states that did not expand Medicaid, remain ineligible for financial assistance for coverage. Additionally, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid or Marketplace coverage."
Rober H. Shmerking talked about the financial burden on patients, "high costs combined with high numbers of underinsured or uninsured means many people risk bankruptcy if they develop a serious illness. Prices vary widely, and it’s nearly impossible to compare the quality or cost of your healthcare options — or even to know how big a bill to expect."
In Pontevedra, when a doctor and a nurse explored my relative, they sent him to hospital in an ambulance straight away. He had lost 15 kilos, had tachycardia, very low blood tension, anaemia, and an abdominal mass, and tests had to be done. No questions were asked about medical insurance, let alone costs. They were diligent and showed empathy for him.
He spent the first weekend doing blood tests. His haemoglobin was low, and so were his iron levels. By Monday, they had done more tests, including a CAT scan to check what the abdominal mass was.
A few days later, the hospital booked a gastroscopy and colonoscopy at the huge Montecelo Hospital, also in Pontevedra. An ambulance took him there and back.
For the colonoscopy he spent the day before eating a special liquid diet to empty his stomach. This was of course prepared specially for him by the hospital cooks.
Every day, he had breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner. The hospital food was good: fresh fish, meat, chicken, fruits and vegetables. Unlike my experience in a U.K. hospital, where the food was dire, in this small hospital in Pontevedra, the food was fresh and healthy.
Finally, once he got back to the Hospital Provincial after the tests and while he was eating some lentils, the doctor came in with good news: "You have a duodenal stomach stomach ulcer and this can be treated with medication".
For the first time in many days, I felt relieved. Yes, those two tests were invasive, but they sedated him and once he woke up, he said he was hungry, which was positive as he had hardly eaten during the week. He never mentioned anything about the tests, so it seems they were okay after all.
Being in the hospital to care for a relative is exhausting not only for the patient but also for the family members doing hospital shifts. The hours of the day go by so slowly that you have a lot of time to think and reflect on how all we really have, despite our achievements, jobs, or material possessions, is our health. Life puts everyone in their place when in a hospital. During those days, I thought about Apple founder Steve Jobs; all the money and talent in the world couldn't cure his illness.
The care my relative received was good; doctors and nurses did their job to the best of their abilities, putting patient care first. Then, there were other key people who are essential for doctors and nurses to focus on their jobs.The cleaners, the people who shower the patients, those who make their beds, the cooks, etc.
Health is not something money should buy. A healthy country with a fair and free health system for all can only make a better country for all. If the Spanish can afford it and make their health system work most of the time, so can the U.S.