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Why people go for alternative medicine

I’m working on a review of The Golden Compass movie, but in the meantime, I’d like to give my opinion about why people go for alternative medicine.

I just came from the pharmacy where my doctor called in a generic prescription for me. She called in the generic, because my insurance company refused to pay for the brand-name drug she prescribed first. Guess what? They are refusing to pay for the generic as well. This from a company to which my job pays over $400 a month for my premium — just me, my husband has separate insurance from his job. I go to the doctor maybe two or three times a year, plus get an annual mammogram, and every other year I get an eye exam (they won ‘t pay for that every year). I hardly ever need medicines. Now that I need one lousy drug, the fuckers refuse to pay for it.

I can certainly see why people turn to alterative medicine when healthcare in the US is so frakking expensive and so many people are not insured at all. And even when you have insurance, even when they get $5000 a year for you, even when you hardly ever have any medical expenses, they still refuse to pay for things. (Can someone tell me how this is legal? I’ve filed a complaint with my insurcance broker and will file one with the state insurance commissioner if this isn’t corrrected within a week. And, no, I don’t think it will do any good except to help me let off a little steam.)

The problem I’m having was caused by a side effect from another drug I took almost a year ago when I had a repetitive stress injury from doing too much bookkeeping at one time, and the problem hasn’t been cleared up all year. Which pisses me off even more, because I am now thinking I should have refused to take the first drug originally. I find myself wondering what I could have done outside the medical system, or if I could have just let myself heal without medical attention.

So people get frustrated and desparate, or don’t want to buy into pharmaceutical industry bullshit, and they try whatever they stumble upon that they can afford. Most people don’t understand science, anyway (that’s another topic that merits an in-depth discussion), so they just opt to go outside the system and give the finger to “the man.” I can totally understand this.

I have no suggestions except to implement free universal healthcare in the entire US. But I’m not holding my breath to see this in my lifetime, because I’d drop dead of asphyxiation for sure before the greedy politicians who take payola from the big-pharma lobbyists will change anything.

So, my confessions of the week: 1) I hate America, and 2) I sympathize with those who go to homeopaths, accupuncturists, chiropractors and other alternative medicine practitioners.

I’d love to hear from those of you in other countries who have better healthcare systems and to find out if people there are just as quick to go after alternative solutions.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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32 Comments

  1. I'm from Canada, and I can safely say that universal health care doesn't lessen the attraction of alternative medicine. My uncle, survivor of 5 heart attacks and a quadruple bypass, has been an advocate of herbal medicine for decades – despite his having 4 of those 5 heart attacks while a devout follower of the Strauss Herb Company. He loves Kevin Trudeau and defends him as a freedom fighter sticking up for the little guy. He thinks pure cinnamon cures diabetes and cottage cheese cures cancer – I'm not joking. That his life has been saved again and again by medical science and the public health care system doesn't stop him from condemning his cardiologist and family doctor as agents of the big pharma conspiracy.

    But don't get the wrong impression… not everyone in my family is crazy. My uncle is virtually alone in his convictions. The rest of my kin pray feverishly to Jesus to cure their ailments… Like my mother, who rubs an "anointed" cloth on her head to help anxiety attacks. Sigh…

  2. The Netherlands does have universal healthcare (it is literally impossible to be uninsured) but it's not cheap and not a bed of roses either. Family physicians have little to no time for their patients (they run their own companies, including mountains of paperwork), are reluctant to refer you on to a specialist, and at least partly recommend medicine based on the perks offered by pharma companies to promote a specific medicine. Note also that at least some health insurance companies actually cover some forms of alternative medicine.

    As for people turning to alternative medicine out of frustration with the regular health care system, one poignant story in this context concerns one Sylvia Millecam, a well-liked comedian who was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and turned to a number of faith healers, including 'medium' Jomanda, herself a celebrity. After being 'treated' by them, she began to believe she had no cancer and only returned to a hospital when it was already far too late. The Dutch association against Quackery is still suing those faith healers.

  3. I was gonna say, Ayn Rand was… interesting, but what she wrote is certainly not accepted by everyone in the skeptical community.

    At any rate, back to the subject at hand, I spent the first half of my life in Australia (I currently live in New York) and my family still lives there. Despite having essentially total coverage, courtesy of the government, altie medicine thrives. I suspect that there is just something appealing in the marketing of it all. One simple thing to do, no pain, no side effects, total cure. Of course it's bunk, but it is still everywhere.

    It has been a while since I have been back, but I would not be surprised if it was more popular (in terms of percentage of the population) down under than it is here.

  4. I used to find Libertarian compelling until I understood they want to abolish most governing bodies such as the FDA, EPA, Medicare, Social Security and many more. The fact that they are against universal health care is no big surprise.

    Libertarianism in my opinion takes its ideas too far. They want every man and woman to fend for themselves, but I wouldn't want to live in that sort of country. What are we to do with those that are sick and too poor for treatment?

    The article gets caught up in the phrase of a "right to health care" arguing that its not a right. Ok I'll agree, right is a poor choice of words, but its undeniable that there is a problem and that something needs to be done.

  5. Another Canadian here. Last week I attended a meeting of Skeptics Canada (I don't suppose you'd like to come up and guest lecture…?) where the primary topic was complementary / alternative medicine (CAM), with speakers specifically addressing homeopathy and chiropathy (the authors of "Spin Doctors: The Chiropractic Industry Under Examination" were two of the lecturers… but I digress).

    The homeopathy lecture included a chart of CAM users in Canada… and according to this chart, it's higher than the US. Even with our free health care.

    I should also note that because Federal and Provincial taxes are so high in Canada (for example, here in Ontario the combined tax is 14%, and in some provinces it's as high as 16%), and that doesn't cover dental or any medication, it's not as big a bargain as you might think. I read one study (erm, which I can't reference now) that indicated that the difference the average Canadian pays in taxes (over the average USian) about equals what that USian pays in blue cross.

  6. Sigh…

    Look, the idea that pharmaceutical "payola" is stopping Universal Healthcare is not well supported with evidence. The alternative hypothesis, that many politicians want universal health care as a vote buying measure, is equally well supported if not better supported.

    Further, at least one country with universal health care (England) actually pays for homeopathy out of the public coffer. So the idea that universal health care is valuable in terms of stomping out woo has at least one ready counterexample.

    Finally, it isn't clear that you would be permitted to get your drug under universal health care, as in some systems it is difficult to get treatment or drugs and in others such things are simply not available (think Russia in the 80's).

    In sum, belief that Universal Health Care is superior to private health care seems to be based on only two numbers–infant mortality and life expectancy–that are derived from studies that do not control for genetic diversity, crime, or other factors. It is not a well supported position. In addition, it is clear that Universal Health care is not a palliative for the specific problems that you complain about. To mention it as if it were is not skeptical.

    Awbranch is engaging in a logical fallacy as well. Because Libertarians do not want the police power of the state engaged to force some people to give money to other people, awbranch assumes that libertarians do not believe that it is a good and fine thing to voluntarily give your own money to other people. This does not follow. A libertarians may believe that charity is a human duty without believing that they have the right to take your money against your will.

  7. Look, the idea that pharmaceutical “payola” is stopping Universal Healthcare is not well supported with evidence. The alternative hypothesis, that many politicians want universal health care as a vote buying measure, is equally well supported if not better supported.

    Keep your condescending sighs to yourself please, sethmanapio.

    If politicians want universal health care, then why don't they create it–or at least try and let Bush veto it? What a laugh. And, sorry, but lobbyists have more influence on politicians than voters do. What do you call all their dinners and golf games and flights, etc., if not "payola"?

    Also, I have never claimed to be a skeptic, as I've written about here before: http://www.skepchick.org/6.15.06/logic.html

    ("I am not a skeptic" was the title of the artical originally, but Rebecca changed it. I keep wondering when she's going to kick me off the blog. I'm an atheist and I don't believe in the supernatural and I generally try to base my opinions at least primarily on evidence, but I don't buy into the whole vulcan mindset that most skeptics seem to adhere to.)

  8. I went to Europe last year, and I conducted a mini-experiment. I had heard that many of the places that get universal healthcare want a system like hours because they like the timing, whereas the pharmaceuticals on our end are making us clamour for universal healthcare. I can honestly say 3/3 people that I asked randomly in Europe (false sterotype: everyone in Europe is snooty and ignores the Americans. They were pretty chatty!) said they wished they had the US's healthcare system. Their healthcare was free, but it took them too long to get service.

    Jury's out if its a "grass is greener" argument, or if both situations actually suck. I suppose in either case I'd rather at least get a pronto diagnosis, even if I then have to pay through the nose to do anything about it. Ugh.

    I can sympathize, though. I never go to the doctors, and rarely get eye exams, etcetera, because the insurance is too much of a hassle. I have no doubt the instant I need some service they'll be quick to make life a pain.

  9. Libertarians do not want the police power of the state engaged to force some people to give money to other people, awbranch assumes that libertarians do not believe that it is a good and fine thing to voluntarily give your own money to other people.

    Voluntary giving is great, and I assume Libertarians are as charitable as anyone else. I just don't think a governing system based entirely on voluntary giving is feasible.

  10. Speaking as someone who recently spent a year in England dealing with that "free" health care system, I'm not convinced in any way that it would solve your problem. Not that I don't sympathize or understand, mind.

    First, I don't believe I've heard of a socialized system that was solvent in terms of finances. This is particularly true in England, where mismanagement of funds is just one of the many ways the system has broken down. Regardless, these systems do not have limitless resources on which to draw. Taxes only cover so much, and as there is limitless DEMAND yet limited supply you run into issues such as the long wait times already alluded to in a couple of other comments.

    The upshot of this is that, even in socialized systems, corners are cut wherever possible to free up funds. I've heard from female friends of mine in England, for instance, that doctors are not allowed (typically) to prescribe birth control with lower doses of hormones at first, and instead prescribe the higher ones despite increased risk of health/emotional problems. This is, supposedly, because the high-dose ones come at a cheaper rate. This leads GPs to prescribe the high-dose, high-risk pills until you have a problem, forcing you to waste time, return for another visit, etc. That's just one example, mind, but I've heard similar stories about other sorts of prescriptions. Anecdotes, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt either way.

    Another reason I disagree with the premise that socialized care would lower the percentage of people who turn to woo is, as previously stated, sometimes the (comparatively) low cost of woo entices the government to cover and recommend woo instead of more costly legitimate therapies. Homeopathy is (as this past year's Richard Dawkins documentary shows) a well-funded part of England's NHS, and because people often feel better after seeing a Homeopath, they get a high rate of patient satisfaction that translates to…MORE funds. So the evidence indicates that a socialized system does not necessarily aid evidence-based medicine.

    Plus, there's the niggling little bit of truth that most people who can afford it acquire secondary insurance and see private doctors in order to get around the NHS's red tape, wait lists, and so on. I believe (though I don't have the stats at present to back this up) that similar numbers hold true with France's socialized system. So I'm not convinced a big, government-run single payer system is the right answer.

    Unfortunately, I don't know WHAT the right answer is. If I did I could make tons of money pitching it! Regardless, I'm smart enough to see that our system is far from ideal, though I have my suspicions that certain inefficiencies in our largely-private system could be traced back to regulations, incentives, and loopholes that the government imposes on it. Do I think that a freer market, with both fewer incentives AND fewer restrictions, would help more? I don't know. I don't know if some sort of mix between a private and socialized system would work. But, quite frankly, I'm afraid of what sort of mess our government would make adopting some kind of socialized system this late in the game.

    Despite being something of a small-L libertarian in terms of politics, I often think that perhaps one thing I WOULD be willing to pay taxes toward would be some kind of health care. But I've also never seen a proposal pitched by a candidate that sounded like it would work (or really do anything other than hemorrhage funds) so I am doubtful as well. Having seen the faults in both systems, I feel like one ends up chosing between the lesser of two evils, whichever you perceive that to be.

  11. Well quite, wb. In the two "socialized systems" I am familiar with (Denmark and the UK, and btw "England" doesn't have a separate health system yet) the system decides what treatment to cover. In that sense they are not so unlike the USA's private healthcare system. The main difference is not _what_ is provided but _to whom_ it is provided – ie healthcare is free at point of usage to all.

    In the US, medical treatment is of a fantastically high standard but in order to get it you must not only be insured but, and it's a huge but, you are also dependent on your insurer not being a complete and utter bunch of bastards. Since they all _are_ a complete and utter bunch of bastards, this is a bit of a problem.

    Incidentally, prescription medicines are not free in the UK or Denmark. We have co-pays too.

    Which reminds me of the first time I took a job in the US and asked our secretary to explain the various insurance options to me:

    Me: so what's a co-payment?

    Her: Oh, that's what you pay, and the insurance company pays the rest.

    Me: and the premium

    Her: well that's what you pay, obviously …

    Me: so what's a deductible?

    Her: well, that's what you pay before the insurance company pays anything …

    Me: Ah, I think I see now …

  12. As an American living in Scotland, I will inject my two pence:

    On universal healthcare: Yes, it has problems. Yes, it has poor funding and resources. However. When my daughter got sick a week after she was born I was able to worry about HER for the time she was in the hospital, and not what it was costing ME. I called the doctor immediately, without hesitation, knowing I was not going to be on the hook for any medical costs. As a result, she got treatment faster – and got better faster. Had a significant cost been involved, I might have tried to "ride it out"… and ended up giving her permanent brain damage. I had kidney stones when I was living in New York, and even with medical insurance I ended up thousands of dollars in the hole. Bottom line – I get sick in the UK, I get treatment and no bill. That is nice.

    Plus, Scotland has beautiful scenery. :D

    On why people use alternative medicine: I think the primary factor is not political, but simply (erroneously applied) pragmatism. Medicine, being reality-based, does not offer easy answers for anything. All treatments have trade-offs, side effects, and questions of how to do the most good while inflicting the least harm. Alternative medicine (or "magic") offers a very simple "do this, get well" approach that speaks right to your brain stem (bypassing that problematic cortex, and all that troublesome "thinking").

  13. I live in the UK where we have universal health care free at the point of delivery. We spend per head about three times less than the US on health care and have broadly similar outcomes. The NHS is not without criticism – there is much that could be improved, but British people, on the whole, would vigorously defend it against any form of privatisation. We have other measure too that prevent the undue influence of pharmaceutical companies – no direct to consumer advertising, independent clinical assessment of drugs available on the NHS.

    And yet, the alternative medicine advocates use pretty much the same arguments as in the US to support their practices. They talk of corrupt doctors being in the pay of Bug Pharma, the suppression of alternative etc. I think they just read US web sites and swallow it all whole. But, alt med is popular here none the less. I do not think mere cost is the primary factor in determining susceptibility to alt med.

    I think it is more to do with what people expect from their healers and how they respond to the healing process. People do not like uncertainty and ambiguity – and real medicine always contains doubts and risks – and choices. People are dissatisfied with the mode of delivery – as well as being given a pill, they want to be listened too, probably for hours. People demand action – and often medicine wants time to see how things progress and get a better understanding. People like pills – and doctors (at least most of them) would want to look at lifestyle factors – smoking, fitness etc. People dislike the loss of control that illness forces on them, and doctors 'impose on them' – they prefer the idea of 'taking control of your health'.

  14. Huh, this is odd. I was looking at the "recent comments" to see what was new after I posted, and didn't see my name there, assuming plenty of new posts were made since I posted. It turns out my comment simply doesn't show up as a recent comment. I wonder why?

    So anyway, that's all …

  15. The premise of your argument for free universal health care implies that it would include immediate, unlimited dosages of any prescription drug on the market. What do you base this on?

    That's not my premise — or the main point of my post — at all. That's just me ranting about ineffectual politicians and inefficiences with making insurance claims in the U.S.

    I had no premise, per se. My question was whether or not having universal healthcare with free and fast access to doctors and medications might cause fewer people to turn to alternative medicine. Apparently, from the few comments here, that's not an obvious conclusion. (And, of course, no implmentation of a universal healthcare system is perfect.)

    P.S. To those who so naively think you don't have to wait for healthcare in the U.S., I just had to make an appointment with my endocrinologist for next March. There's just nothing like the wonderful, speedy service in our private healthcare system, huh?

  16. The wait times in ERs and clinics in Canada could be shorter, and the doctors could be more attentive in some cases, but it's the same anywhere you have plenty of consumers; the need can outstrip supply. Sometimes I have walked into a doctor's office without a wait, and sometimes I have had to wait 15-30 minutes. The only times I've really had a long long wait was at the lab, waiting for blood tests or ultrasound or similar. Typically not the hours and hours of waiting in a soviet style death march in a clinic that seems to be the image trotted out by the AMA and Libertarians.

    My supplemental insurance through my employer covers my prescription medications, and I've never had a problem with that. Most plans I've been on recently had a swipe card that did automatic payment from my insurer to the pharmacy. I have never had a problem, regardless of whether it was a prescription for dilaudid or other narcotics, asthma meds (for pre-existing condition, even), etc. Never a refusal. Secondary insurance functions in Canada as insurance; it's there to help you if you have a problem; not to add to the problem.

    I think that there might be something to the theory that the uninsured might turn to homeopathy and the like in lieu of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket. $20 for a bottle of magic water sounds like a good bet to cure that pain in your side when you don't have insurance or the money to pay for a full scope of diagnostic tests.

    Sadly, there's no shortage of homeopathy and reiki and other craziness here in Canada, most of which isn't covered by any medical plan at all. So, what we have here is people who pay for homeopathy instead of receiving free care. They might equate the value paid for something with its worth…

    By the way skeptics aren't the Vulcans… that's the Randists. I'd say most of the Skeptics I've run into are pretty happy people who can have fun without questioning absolutely everything.

  17. Ah the Randists, there you go! :-) I knew there was a name for that syndrome.

    I thought the wait meant how long till you get an appointment, now how long you sit in the waiting room. That can be deceptive, sometimes I sit 5 or 10 minutes in the waiting room and then get weighed and have my blood pressure checked by a nurse, and then sit for an hour in the exam room. I have often thought of billing my doctor for my time when she is late, but she always takes the time to talk with me about what's on my mind, so I can't begrudge her doing the same with other patients.

  18. To me, the wait time IS time waiting to get an appointment. I know that's what I spoke of in my own post. I can't say what others were referring to. And we're talking months, in many cases, for non emergency care. We're talking (depending on your own availability and that of your GP) weeks for a regular GP appointment. This was much worse than the (admittedly very good) health plan I had in the US prior to leaving.

    For some specialities, to my knowledge, things aren't too different between the UK and the US in terms of wait time. For instance, I had to make an appointment to see a neurologist while I was there, and it was roughly three months away (much like your March endocrinologist appt, writerdd).

    I also know that for a lot of non-emergency diagnostics, the wait time in the UK far outstrips our own. Again, without getting into many details, after meeting with the Neurologist (I believe this was in May) he recommended another test. He put my name in, did everything he was meant to do, etc. That was more or less the last I heard of it until I visited the GP in September, when they told me they were still working on getting me an appointment for the test. Whether or not they ever managed it, I don't know, as I left the country later that month. All I know is that they told me it would likely be another two-three months on after they managed to get the appointment.

    So again, I think there are problems in any system and I personally do not understand economics, public health, or business well enough to come up with a system that would work for everyone here. There may not be one.

    That said, I actually have heard some British people (friends of mine) propose a certain amount of privatization to their system in order to alleviate some of the financial troubles. I don't think it's likely to happen, at least not any time soon, but there is an undercurrent of sentiment towards that. I kind of hope they do hit on a good balance between the two, honestly, so that we might find a functional model to copy.

  19. In Canada, if it's a "walk in" clinic to see a GP, the wait can vary, but unless there's a rash of disease and injury in the area, it's typically less than an hour.

    If you're going for lab work or to see a specialist, then all bets are off; there just aren't enough good specialists in most cities; not unlike with your endocrinologist. I've only had to go to a specialist once that I can recall, and that was a podiatrist. There was one office visit, and the following week I was back to have the issue dealt with.

    The trouble with privatizing a social system is just as difficult as socializing a private one; nobody's going to be even slightly happy with the results.

  20. Leading aside the univesal healthcare argument….

    If access to healthcare as a cause of alternative medicine was primarily income based (ie cant afford good healthcare etc) you'd expect to see alternative medicine mostly concentrated in lower income strata and almost invariably cheaper than standard medicine.

    Neither are really the case, people will sometimes pay many times more than the conventional options, and I see plenty of woo in the upper and middle classes, if not more so.

  21. Otara makes a very good argument.

    Case in point: My stepmother and father are quite comfortably middle-to-upper-middle class folks. Hell, my father's a medical professional with many friends who are also medical professionals and who should know better. Yet he is currently taking an unsupported and likely ineffective treatment to aid a particular G.I. related issue…some sort of herbal medicine combination given to him by the lady who run's Nature's Pharmacy in their home town and recommended to him by a chiropractor. And my stepmother is up to her elbows in herbal remedies and vitamins.

    My father approaches it by saying "Well, if it makes me feel better, I don't really care if that's psychological or something the medicine actually does" although my stepmother is more of a whole-sale believer in the power of "natural" cures. Yet my father has a rather good insurance plan, and that could provide actual proper medicine for the both of them. So yes, we don't really see the expected stratification…it seems, to an extent, the oppposite of our expectations.

  22. A point of clarification – the United State already has universal healthcare. If you are injured or ill, regardless of ability to pay – you can receive healthcare. Any ER, government clinic or public hospital must treat you. Now here is the rub, there is no universal coverage. The Massachussets experiment is being watched with some interest, however, the jury is still out. The only international commenters have all pointed out significant flaws with their systems.

    If you are healthy, you may not want to expend funds on insurance. If you are ill – you want complete coverage. Nothing is free. The UK, Denmark, Holand and others all pay in the form of higher taxes and social burdens. Germany actually drafts its entire population into social service for two years, thus depressing the labor market horribly.

    Why alternative medicine. I think it is because it appeals to an individuals' sense of self. They don't view themselves as sick and therefore some "alternative" approach must be available. Or they are so desperate they will try anything.

    There really are only two types of medicine – the proven and the unproven. The unproven breaks down intotwo further categories – things which don't work (homeopathy, accupuncture, cough syrup, etc.) and those things which have yet to be definitively proven (herbals, biofeedback).

  23. I’ve only read about half of the above comments but here’s my take. I live near the Canadian border and the parking lots of the local hospital and medical clinics are full of Canadian cars. My wife is British and my brother in law in England and his wife spent four weeks recently in Tijuana dolling out tens of thousands of dollars for Laetrile and “Natural” treatments for my sister in laws breast cancer instead of getting proven traditional treatments. It took my sister in law four months to get diagnosed and a treatment plan set up for a disease that the poorest person in this country with NO HEALTH CARE would have been diagnosed and in treatment in less than a week. I have other relatives who live in the UK and they have few good things to say about their universal health care. Our system has some holes and these are generally temporary for most folk and avoidable for others. A significant portion of the “uninsured” in this country are partially or fully eligible for state run federal funded health care programs but they never go to the Social and Health Services office and apply for the benefits. Other health care needs of the uninsured are simply paid for by all the rest of us, as most hospitals do not turn the sick away and many are prevented by law form refusing treatment for non payment. Not being insured does not mean you do not get health care in this country if your sick. And what you get is usually better than in most countries that have universal coverage because the competitive money grubbing system we have pays for it and pays for the vast majority of all medical advances in the world.

    And I gotta say your rants against “Big Pharma” smell a little conspiratorial.

    One more thing… The treating UK medical doctors (Damn twits and criminally neglect bastards) recommended the alternative Laetrile clinic to my relatives!!!! This would have gotten their licenses suspended in the US and potentially resulted in charges of criminal negligence. Without competition doctors often become like school teachers with no fear of getting sacked or written off as the government will keep them employed.

  24. The writer on the Rand site is confused. They quote the Declaration of Independence which is not the law. The Preamble to the Constitution IS the law and "Promote the general welfare" is one of the six goals stated for the constitution. Universal healthcare fits well into that goal.

  25. As to what James Fox said…I cannot address most of his points, however: The US does have the best five year cancer survival rate in the world, ahead of every other country with or without socialized health care. The UK has a very, very poor rate, particularly amongst those with a universal care system. So, whatever that may mean, well, it means it :-P

    Source

    And forgive my use of the Telegraph, which I do understand to be a Tory-leaning paper…it was just the first source to come up in my search.

  26. I'm from Finland. We also have a universal health insurance that can't really be avoided if you're a legal citizen. We pay for it (and a lot of other stuff) in the form of taxes, which are probably around the highest in Europe. That's the major drawback. I do support this system, however, over the one in the USA, in principle. "In principle" means that I have no first hand experience of the US health care and I base this argument over what I have heard about it.

    The major advantage of universal health care is that poor people can get sick without A) dying for lack of treatment or B) going bankrupt and ending up healthy but under the bridge. It's true that universal health care probably clogs up a bit, as in demand overwhelming supply, but of course there are private facilities in Finland also, and people can get a private insurance, which brings those facilities to the reach of the middle class, not just the rich. I, for one, have just recently stepped into working life from being a student, and am by no means wealthy. Still, I, for example, have bought a health insurance from a private company for my newborn daughter, so that if she gets sick I can just waltz into the office of whichever private doctor happens to be available and not bear the brunt of huge bills.

    So, in a sense, the poor get their treatment, albeit sometimes after a long wait (especially non-emergency surgical procedures sometimes have a waiting period of over a year) and the somewhat better-off people can get theit treatment faster by buying additional insurance.

    The whole thing does eat up a lot of money, though. Just recently our nurses went on strike because their salaries are ridiculously low compared to our neighbors. They did eventually win the struggle and get a decent raise, but only after threatening with mass resignations. For a while the country's hospitals were preparing to shut down facilities duo to the lack of personnel. This was extremely relevant for my family, as our daughter was about to be born somewhere aroung that time, and the maternity ward would probably have had to usher us home just a couple of hours after the birth. Luckily, she was born before the strike, which eventually didn't come at all. So yes, there definitely are drawbacks.

    I just realised I just rambled on without even mentioning alternative treatment. I'm not sure how big it is in Finland, but at least my daughters mother got her pain treated with acupuncture by a midwife skilled in it. In a public hospital, that is. Interesting.

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