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Socialized Health Care; An American’s Perspective on the Danish System

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Having followed both sides of the US health care debate, I approached the Danish health care system with skepticism. I was prepared for long queues, difficult access, and a poor level of care. But, I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

I’m not sure this is the place to be if you’ve got a life threatening illness, there’s too much potential for cost cutting and shortcut-taking.  But the more I think about it, the more I see that the US system plays a similar game with PCPs, referrals, pre-certifications, etc.  My experience in Denmark so far has well exceeded expectations. It’s at the very least equal to, and in some ways, better than, the private system I was used to in the US.

The CPR number is the Danish equivalent to the US Social Security number. I swear you cannot do anything without one of these. This little yellow card is my health card, library card, and ticket to a Danish bank account, the tax office, and pretty much every other practical aspect of setting up a life here. In Denmark, everyone who has residency (temporary or permanent) or citizenship has health care.Danish Healthcard

They’ve also introduced something called, NEM ID. It’s basically a single sign-on to the tax and banking system. I enter my username and password, then I get a 4 digit code, which I look up on a paper card that’s sent in the mail. Each 4 digit code corresponds to a single use PIN that I can then use to login. Once I’m out of codes, they automatically send me a new card.

My bank account and the tax office (SKAT) are linked, so my income, interest earned and paid, etc. is automatically shared by my bank with the tax office, and my Danish tax return is figured automatically. As an American, this is an uncomfortable system for me. I’m not used to Big Brother having such easy access to my health records, library records, and spending habits. Yeah, I know, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” Whatever. I’m not a fan of the Patriot Act, either. It’s not because I’ve got anything to hide, it’s because I was raised with a certain expectation of privacy and giving that up makes me a bit anxious. It’s just so — not American.  But, the system is incredibly efficient. If I need to book a doctor appointment, I go to a website, sign in with my CPR number and book online. I can email my doctor and receive a reply the next day. I can call any weekday morning between 8 and 9 and speak with my doctor. I have direct contact, not just an empty promise of “the doctor is with a patient, I’ll have her call you.”

My asthma has sent me to the hospital twice, by ambulance once, (costing me over $1200 with insurance), and I’m scared to death of having an asthma attack. So when I moved, I was very concerned about how I’d manage my asthma. I chose a health clinic when I applied for my CPR number and I can see any doctor at that clinic. Shortly after figuring out how to navigate the Danish website, I booked an appointment online, showed up for my appointment, swiped my yellow card, saw the doc, and left without a copay. I waited maybe 10 minutes past my scheduled time, but I’ve had longer waits in the US.

Based on some things I’d read online on various blogs and expat forums, my stomach was in knots at the thought of having to go in and ask to speak English, but no need, my doctor is lovely. She introduced herself by her first name and asked if I preferred to speak English or Danish. Her office was big, bright, and nothing like the dismal inner city Planned Parenthood sort of place I was expecting.  She asked a lot of questions about my asthmatic history, and looked up both of my medicines to make sure she was prescribing the Danish equivalent. Then she asked if she could up the dose of my primary treatment because she felt I was using my rescue inhaler too often. I didn’t feel rushed, as I sometimes did in the US and I didn’t at all feel marginalized for speaking English.

The weakest part of the system for me is that we don’t have prescription coverage. Here, I pay for a one month supply of asthma medicine about what I paid for a 3 month supply with prescription coverage in the US. It’s expensive. I hear the prescriptions get less expensive the more you refill them, but I can’t comment on that yet.  Refilling. I’m almost out of medicine so I had to deal with that last week. I didn’t know if there were refills left on the last prescription, if I needed another office visit, or what. So, I emailed my doctor and asked for refills. The next morning, I got a reply asking me to call her because she was worried that I might be using my rescue inhaler too often. At first I was annoyed because in the US, I could call up and get refill on almost anything without a hassle. But then, I felt grateful that she had such an interest in helping me control this so I can live without worrying too much about another major attack. I called and explained that I still have most of my rescue inhaler left, but would like an extra one to keep at work. No problem. And she said if my asthma gets worse in the summer or starts acting up when I’m trying to run to be sure to come in for a lung capacity test and so she can adjust my treatment.

OK, so taxes are high, my health situation has been straightforward, and I won’t say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but I’m definitely sipping it. So far, I give Denmark an A+ in health care.

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About Sage & Simple

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Nonononononono! socialized health care is BAD, young lady, BAD! Just ask any conservative in America, and they’ll tell you just how much better we have it here than anywhere else in the world!

    Right now I can promise you that Sean Hannity is adding you to his list of card-carrying members of the Socialist Party….

  • Boeke

    Like Sage, I have experienced European healthcare and it worked well, was easy to navigate, inexpensive and perfectly adequate.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    NONONONONONO! Tom Cruise himself is jumping up and down on a couch telling you how evil and socialist it is to even suggest that other nations – and especially socialist nations – have a better health care system than we do!

  • http://adventuresinamyland.wordpress.com/ Amy@AiA

    It’s not that European healthcare is inexpensive it’s that you are not directly paying for it. The problem with European healthcare is that it’s revenue to operate comes from taxes, which is fine if everyone can agree to fork over some more. Those type of systems also operate along the lines of “everyone pays in and so everyone will use” which is far from the case.

    In Britain (where I live as an expat) for example there are huge waiting lists for most things having to do with dental hygiene (big surprise there) so most people have to go private anyway while STILL paying into a system that promises them dental care. This is a waste of their own personal, hard earned money.

    Healthcare would be great, if we could afford it. We are not like these Scandinavian countries for a number of reasons and I hope people will stop comparing the US to them. For one, we have a lot larger population and a very sickly population to boot.

  • Boeke

    Average per capita health cost in the USA is about 50% more than industrial Europe, and we still don’t cover everyone.

    Our monopoly operated, for profit, health system is a fiscal failure. It costs us about $2.5trillion per year and about $1trillion of that is overcharges and waste. If we converted to a simple UHC we could easily reduce the National Debt and eliminate the Deficit. You know, just what all those politicians and Tea Partiers claim to want to do.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Socialism is bad. Why? Because it is SOCIALISM!

  • zingzing

    amy: “For one, we have a lot larger population and a very sickly population to boot.”

    why are we so sickly?

  • S.T..M

    I like what happens Down Under: A good universal health care system paid for out of our taxes, but combined with a private system that runs parallel to it.

    I have private insurance like a lot of Aussies, but often myself or my family using the public system too. In that system, I have my choice of doctor and a private room where possible.

    Getting a tax break on my health insurance is important too. It takes pressure off the public system – unlike in many parts of Europe – and offers that all-important ingredient: CHOICE.

    However, I also like the idea that those not as well off as myself will have the same quality care I get, or close to it. Even if it means I pay a bit more in tax, because I know those earning less are paying just as much on a pro-rata basis, even if it’s a lesser amount.

    That is not socialism, it’s a bit of mild social engineering, and should not be confused with socialism … most Americans wouldn’t know real socialism if it bit them on the arse.

    And a health country is a happy country. A country where everyone feels they are treated with equal importance is even happier.

    America’s problem in relation to this is not so much the cost – which is bad enough – but the divide it has created.

    For a society that supposedly prides itself on its egalitarianism, there’s an awful lot of inequality and lack of compassion.

  • S.T..M

    And yes, our public health system is very similar to Denmark’s … including a “safety net” on prescriptions and specialist visits.

    My wife used to visit a specialist twice a month, and would be $80 out of pocket for the first few months on his fee of about $260 per one-hour consultation (which is $80 above the fee scheduled by the government; that is, the amount the government will cover, although doctors can charhe what they like within reason).

    However, after a couple of months, she paid only the scheduled fee … by paying the full amount to him each consultation and then going to the local Medicare office and getting an $80 cash refund.

    Ditto with prescription medication, although quite a lot of it is subsidised by the government (with our taxes, of course). In that scenario of it being subsidised, a medication that might normally cost, say, $200 a month, will cost next to nothing.

    Those figures are almost identical to US dollar figures, too.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy
  • S.T..M

    Thanks Cindy! I love ya. That was insane. I have seen a bit footage of similar tidal bore waves in the Amazon, China and a river in England or Wales (The Severn Bore), but not in Indo – which, BTW, also has some of the best regular waves on the planet: as good, some say better, than Hawaii.

    However, that is the best footage I’ve seen of tidal bore waves being ridden anywhere. It looks like there was a light offshore wind (blowing on to the wave from in front), which cleans the face of the wave up and makes it perfect.

    I’m off for a second look :)

  • S.T..M

    Even better the second time around. Good on ya Cindy.

  • STM

    Cindy, just showing thyat clip to all the boys at work. We’re loving it. Indonesia’s our closest neighbour, lots of us have been up there surfing, so everyone’s trying to work out where the river is.

    Cheers.