Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Cubanist Reflects on Reformed US Health Care

The day is still hazy in my mind. I was sick and could barely walk. I hadn't gotten out of bed in almost a week. Finally my (now former) mother-in-law came over and let me lean on her shoulder as we walked to the neighborhood clinic. I hadn't gone before because I wasn't sure I could. As a foreigner, I was supposed to use the expensive tourist hospitals, but I doubted I could afford to go there since I hadn't bought tourist insurance. With my U.S.-based understanding that cost is part of care, I fumbled for the US$10 bill -- about half a Cuban's monthly salary -- that was tucked in my wallet as we walked out of my apartment.

In contrast to previous visits with my (then) husband, there was barely a wait at all to see the doctor. Mami explained to her that I was foreign, but sick: "Won't you help her, please?" The doctor began to ask me about my symptoms and examined me. She determined that I had strep throat and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. I tried to pay her with the $10 I had brought but she refused. Mami then took me around the corner to the pharmacy (featuring herbs, Chinese medicines, and Western medicines) where I paid about CU$5 (less than US$0.50) for the antibiotics. The last thing I remember was taking my medicine and falling asleep until the next day.

To be clear, I do not suggest that Cuba's system is without flaws: it generally features long lines, the equipment is frequently antiquated, and foreign tourists can pay for the kinds of services they may be accustomed to in their home countries. Likewise, the reforms to the U.S. health care system will not be perfect when they are ultimately enacted in the months and years ahead. But, at long last, we are on the right track to everyone having access to affordable health care.

I share my experience with the Cuban health care system in celebration of the reforms just made law in the United States.

Contributed by L. Kaifa Roland

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