Friday, August 7, 2009

Health Care Stories: Randers, Denmark

Bette, an American living abroad, gives us her experiences with the U.S. and Belgian health care systems.


Before moving to Denmark 2.5 years ago, I lived in California for 14 years. Before that, the Midwest. While in the Midwes,t I always had insurance—either through parents or work—and never worried about health care costs.

Then I moved to Cali. Initially without insurance, it didn't really matter. I used Planned Parenthood when necessary and never got sick otherwise. Until I did. Unfortunately, I had no insurance, so going to a doctor was out of the question. Free clinics were also not accessible because I worked and, therefore, made too much money.

I had issues with my wrists that started spreading to other areas, but no insurance. The company I worked for at that time was smaller and couldn't initially afford to offer it to their employees. Then, I found a lump in my arm pit that put a scare into me. My company managed to find a plan that people were willing to sign onto, that would cover at least a few of the costs of getting the lump checked out, and I was fortunate to find a doctor who was willing to basically write off the additional costs rather than let it go unexplored.

Luckily, that lump was nothing, just a “lymph node stuck on stupid,” as he put it. I think it actually was a notice that what had been bothering my joints for the past two years was going into overdrive. It took about 6 months before the company was able to get some decent insurance, and I was able to go to the doctor to get my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed and begin treatment. It had been about two years since the first symptoms with no treatment—as I couldn't afford it. The treatment I received, once insured, would have run me about $12,000 every 6 weeks, so having insurance was a real blessing. While some of my joints have been permanently affected, we were able to slow down destruction to others.

When I left my company, I lost my insurance, as the COBRA costs were almost triple what I had been paying through my company. Luckily, the arthritis went into remission, and the next few years I was fortunate that nothing else came up while looking for work and temping. Then I moved to Denmark.


Denmark is democratically-run, with a very high tax rate that covers, among other things, health care for everyone. That included me, who is here on a family reunification visa as I married a Dane. Once my visa was approved, one of the notices I received in the mail was a brochure encouraging all women to go to their doctors for cancer screening. It didn't matter that I had only had a visa for 3 weeks or that I hadn't yet paid a cent in taxes. And that's pretty much how it's been ever since. If I need to go to the doctor, I can call and generally get an appointment within the week. My arthritis treatments are also covered, with the medicine either costing nothing to refill prescriptions or about $20 for medicine that cost about $100 in the States.

Yes, there can be a wait. Getting x-rays for non-emergency reasons can take up to 6 weeks to schedule. But I broke my finger in February 2008, and, after my husband convinced me to go to the emergency room, I was seen quickly, x-rayed, and given treatment with no waiting.

In May 2008, we had just returned from a trip to the States, when I started having an earache that just wouldn't let up. I went to the doctor, who could see nothing wrong and suggested I give it a couple days and it would go away. Two days later I went back because it hadn't gone away, and he diagnosed it as a potentially dangerous infection called Rosin here, which could get rather bad if left untreated. He prescribed a course of antibiotics, and it was dealt with.

That could be seen as a health care system that doesn't pay attention to patients, but I've seen the exact same thing happen in the States. My best friend back home began feeling very tired and turning jaundiced, and, when she went to her doctor, he did blood tests and told her to go home and rest while they waited for the results. In the meantime, she grew worse, to the point where she couldn't walk and had to be hospitalized in an emergency situation. Her white blood cells were attacking her red blood cells and destroying them. She was on death's doorstep, and I called her doctor to get permission for her to go to the hospital and was refused because the test results hadn't come back yet.

So, she nearly died because her doctor wasn't sure what was wrong with her. It can happen anywhere. It can happen whether you have more socialized medicine, like Denmark, or a system like in the States, where only people who can afford insurance or who are so poor they can barely afford anything else and thus qualify for assistance, are protected, and even then they really aren't.

In my opinion, “socializing” health care would be the best thing that could happen to the States. It won't happen, though, because the lobbies are fighting tooth and nail for their wallets, and not for our health. No matter what they say, what they claim, it does not make more sense that what is going on now is the best thing out there. People go on about how horrid it is in Canada, France, England, etc., yet you don't see millions of people moving to the US from those countries for the healthcare. Yes, I know people do come to the US because we have some of the best doctors, facilities, etc., in the world. But other countries still provide better, more comprehensive care for ALL of their citizens, and not just the ones who can afford it. Including Denmark.

Last Thing

My husband, a Dane who loves the US with every fiber in his being says this: “If I'm ever really sick and we're in the States, please get me back to Denmark. Otherwise we'll go bankrupt trying to take care of it.”

Money should be the last thing on someone's mind when they're ill, not the first. Since I no longer have health insurance in the States, I say the same. Send me back to Denmark, at least I'll get treated there.

Randers, Denmark

Send us your story at

No comments: