23 February 2008

Dear America: I have Free Universal Health Care

My name is Anda Greeney. I am 23. My work does not offer health insurance. I am insured for free. I have Universal Health Care.

You may be asking yourself, "Insured maybe, for free probably not. And free universal health care? Definitely not. This America! We don't do that. " Though perhaps you know of two little experiments going on in our country. Massachusetts' Mass Health program. San Francisco's Healthy San Francisco program. Though neither are universal. You leave city or state limits and its a wild country.

Let me explain my word wizardry. I effectively have free universal health care. I lived in Massachusetts. I live in San Francisco. I had health care. I move. I have health care. Universal or not, I'm batting 1000.

And I have never had more responsive care in my life, and may even make you jealous (take that Michael Moore).

Last Tuesday I walked into San Francisco General Hospital. It is a five minute walk from my house, so a natural choice for me. I quickly find myself in Ward B filling out a slip with my name and date of birth. And I sit in the waiting room. And I grab a magazine about health and religion. Gosh the selection here stinks. And before I even have a chance to finish reading the introductory comments I hear a nurse call my name. Wow! I pass through that magical door located at the far end of the room, replete with a de rigeur tiny glass window, finding myself in another hallway, though this one within the hospitals inner sanctuary. Is this America? I don't have health insurance. I am not supposed to make it this far unless I come by way of Ambulance, passing through the the swinging double bay doors marked "Emergency".

I explain to the nurse the nature of my visit. I need my blood pressure looked into and monitored for five consecutive days, and the results written down in a note which will then be sent off to the Air Force. Certainly a reasonable enough request, though in my mind likely to pose significant scheduling hurdles. The nurse does indeed pop my fantastical bubble of health care in San Francisco, telling me that they are quite busy and booked well out. I practically hear air pshhhing out of my balloon, it zinging across the room and smashing flaccid into the far wall. Though she quickly begins to reinflate it, making a phone call on my behalf to a health clinic which is located a short distance away, scheduling me a Thursday morning appointment.

On Thursday I arrive early to fill out some medical paperwork. (We really need electronic records.) I mention that I do not have health insurance to the receptionist who tells me I need to meet with the Healthy San Francisco administers and register for the program. "Can you still see me today?" "Of Course". After completing the paper work I am handed a prescription drug card and told where to pick up (free) medications in case the doctor prescribes anything during the visit. I am then seen by a nurse who goes over some basics and takes my blood pressure and makes encouraging comments about the feasibility of monitoring my blood pressure for a Monday-Friday work week. She then asks if there is anything else. I mention that STD testing would be great. "No problem" she says. I never realized health care was like shopping at the soup kitchen where I can add a range of salubrious items or services to my cart. And I hadn't even learned about the free acupuncture or yoga yet.

I then wait for my doctor to meet with me. Dr. Davi as he calls himself breezes in and begins asking me some basic intake questions. He soon makes his interest in meditation and non-western treatment known, recommending meditation to me and asking about my spiritual and religious beliefs. He brings me to his office to print out some information about music which is supposed to treat hypertension, and give me information on meditation. His office is decorated with Indian tapestries and various eastern figurines, and playing on his stereo is some similar world music. A bit unprofessional as far as the white walls I am accustomed to, but my sense of rejuvenation when I later left the clinic, spoke highly of the environment. Dr. Davi schedules me to meet with him again in two weeks, and sets me up to come in for five days of monitoring the coming work week. And lastly takes my blood pressure again which is lower than anything I had seen in a long time.

And now you can imagine why I went swinging out the door in such high spirits.

Massachusetts' Mass Health program is an interesting one too. This summer while living in Boston I was able to see an eye doctor and have a contacts exam, all without a copay or a dollar of out-of-pocket expense. It did of course help that my income was below the poverty line, though you get the idea. I may not be as free as Julie Andrews skipping across the Austrian country side, though within the confines of Massachusetts and San Francisco I do alright for myself.

So Thank you America. You made my day. I think you are doing better than some will have us believe!

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