When I was 16, I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and placed immediately in an isolation unit whereupon a drip was inserted to my right forearm, just above the wrist. I had been ill, off and on, for the previous two years, causing me to miss then-important chunks of my school education. I spent some time delirious on the drip, with varying levels of awareness and wakefulness. I can vaguely remember peering without comprehension at a small TV screen that had been wheeled close to my bed. Somewhere in the fog was a beguiling nurse who was just doing her job. The emergency, I later learned, was that I had a virulent form of glandular fever (mononucleosis), which was causing my throat to close over, and I had lost 20 percent of my bodyweight. After some time — perhaps three days — I was taken off the drip but remained in isolation.
Bored, and doubtless with some pressing teenage matters to take care of, I duly raised from my sick bed, dressed, and walked out of the hospital to catch a bus for the 45-minute trip home. At least that is what I am told. I was still so sick I have no memory of leaving the hospital at all. It was only when I was in my late 20s that the topic came up in a family conversation. Everybody assumed I knew what I had done. Could I have been compelled to make this unconscious journey by the fear of the cost of an extended stay in the hospital? Perhaps it was the thought of the exorbitant expense of the ambulance ride a few days earlier? It was none of these things. It was simply teenage restiveness and the congenital belief that I know best. I was in the hospital in England. My ambulance ride was free, as were the drip and its fluids, the bed, the TV — all of my care would have been free had I remained in the hospital forever. When I returned to the hospital a few months later for a tonsillectomy, the whole thing was free. The United Kingdom is one of a vast majority of countries that has a free at-source healthcare system, a.k.a. universal healthcare. These countries are as diverse as Ghana and Germany, Croatia and China, India, Hong Kong, Botswana, South Africa, Israel, Sweden, and, yes, Canada. The list goes on. The United States of America is conspicuous by its absence.
The above is by way of a declaration an announcement that I have personal interest in the healthcare debate that has ebbed and flowed in this country for many years, though it was perhaps never more vehement than during the passage of Obamacare or The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Still, it seems that healthcare remains a puzzle in search of a solution. Witness the thoroughgoing calamity of the attempts by the U.S. Senate to craft some form of legislation to “repeal and replace” Obamacare these past nine months. My interest is also somewhat at an academic level. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on healthcare, at a point when — perhaps ironically — the U.K. healthcare system was seen as being in danger of selling out its founding principles of “meeting the needs of everyone; free at the point of need; and treatment based on clinical need not ability to pay.”