Sunday, August 30, 2009

Health Care Stories: Malmö, Sweden

Mark has lived in Canada and Britain and currently lives in Sweden. He is here to give us his comparison of the three systems.

I'm a 44-year-old British-Canadian living in Sweden. To elaborate: I was
born and raised in Montreal (Canada), moved to London (England) in 1990,
and to Sweden in 2002. I currently live in Malmö, in southern Sweden, where I'm a freelance copywriter/editor.

As someone who's happened to live his whole life in countries where healthcare is either free (Canada/UK) or highly subsidised (Sweden), I find this issue a no-brainer, and it surprises me enormously that so many Americans are seemingly up-in-arms about the whole thing.

Before I continue, I feel I should point out that most of the people I hang out with here in Sweden are either American or British, so please don't think that I hate Americans. I have dozens of American friends, both here and in the States.

As I mentioned, healthcare in Canada and the UK is free. All you need to bring with you is the appropriate card (possibly some other ID as well, I'm not sure).


I haven't lived in Canada for over nineteen years, so I don't know if much has changed there; I can't really comment on that. But I know that when I was growing up, whenever I needed to see a doctor - from what I can remember - there were never long waiting times.


The UK's healthcare, the NHS (National Health Service) is a bit of a mixed bag, in my opinion. I've never personally had any problem with the standard of healthcare there, but the media are always reporting on botched surgeries, unacceptable waiting times, etc. But, while scandals of these types obviously exist, shining a spotlight on them--and adding a slight sensationalistic spin--will sell more newspapers. I'm sure many
tragedies and stories of incompetence also exist in the USA.

Incidentally, I saw Michael Moore's film Sicko. He definitely portrays the UK's system as idyllic, and, if you ask me, it's not a very well-balanced picture. It was all a bit too rose-tinted. But that's his type of schlock journalism ... but I digress.

I would say that problems do exist within the NHS (too many, in fact, to list here), but all in all, it's a system in which the majority of people can generally receive a very good level of healthcare free of charge. Prescriptions are also a standard price, regardless of the type of medication.


In Sweden, healthcare isn't completely free. If you need to see a doctor, you pay up to about 200 Kronor (about $28) per visit. But the costs are capped at 900 Kronor (about $130) for the year. This means that if you need to see a doctor several times over the course of a year, you'll never need to pay more that about $130.

I went to see a dermatologist to get some nasty moles removed. I had to go several times over the course of a few months. The procedure entailed applying some ultra-freezing stuff with a cotton swab to freeze the moles, and they would eventually fall off. I think I had to go about seven or eight times. I was pleasantly surprised when I turned up once and was told that I don't have to pay anymore. I'd thought that I would always have to pay about $28 every time.

It's the same deal with prescriptions. I don't remember the exact amounts, but there's an annual cap of - I think - about $270.

Here's a bit of a horror story, though. Someone I know in Gothenburg - a Swede, in fact - broke his hand and went to a hospital's ER to get treated. There was no receptionist; just a ticketed queueing system. He waited about three hours before being seen. When it was his turn, he was told that they didn't treat broken bones at that hospital and that he had to go to a different hospital. So it's not all rosy here, either.


I don't believe that free healthcare is perfect anywhere. But nor do I believe that it's something one should have to pay for.

People always have the option to "go private" (i.e. get private health insurance), but most people I know don't bother. I think most people who do choose this option are either quite well-off, or have had a bad experience with the public system.

The argument many American have about illegal immigrants milking the system is bullshit. When visiting a doctor, you need to present your Medicare card in Canada, your NHS card in the UK, and your National ID (with your unique "person number") in Sweden.

Arguing for keeping a system in which people are left to die, or suffer horrendous pain, because they haven't got insurance - or "the right kind of insurance" - is sheer ignorance.

Without wishing to come across as anti-American, as I definitely am not, I just look at those opposing this great step towards making healthcare available to all, and think "Yep, typical Yanks."

I think many are afraid of the word "socialized", thinking that this will be the first step towards a communist regime, led by Comrade Obama. It also appears that many are opposed to having Obama as a leader, and would oppose anything he would try to initiate.

I have never lived in a country without free healthcare. I should point out that I (like pretty much everyone I know) rarely need to see a doctor, so I think it's fair to say that the majority of people don't run to the doctor when they have a runny nose, just because it's free. Yes, there are hypochondriacs, but they exist in every country.

As for the "more taxes" issue: Yes, the cost has to come from somewhere. But the amount per citizen is negligible. From what I've heard, most people are happy to pay a little bit extra to keep themselves and their fellow citizens healthy.


Wake up, America. Keep your private insurance if it makes you feel safer, but don't deny your fellow citizens basic medical care because you decide to pay extra for yours.

Check out Mark's blog, Helsingbloggin' - Malmö.

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