A Brit's Experience Navigating the US Healthcare System

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Until this year, my experience of healthcare was one of accessibility and service that founds all of my needs met. As a person who was living in the UK, paying for healthcare had never been a concern. Imagine going to visit a doctor at the slightest cough, cold, or aching joint, or visiting the emergency room without the impending doom of a hospital bill. Well, that was my life. Until I decided to relocate to the US anyways. My experience has been eye-opening to say the least.


In December, I visited the dentist in the UK as a preventative measure, knowing that I would soon be relocating. Having friends and family in the States, I knew that healthcare was expensive and prohibitive for some. I informed my dentist of my move and asked him to undertake any work that might need doing in the next couple of years. I had four fillings, three check-ups and a clean.

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While the NHS does cover dental care, but it is one of the few services which require a small contribution. It can also be difficult to find an NHS dentist. I was one of the lucky ones. The fees are on a tiered basis, depending upon the type of care. For my visit, I paid a total of $67.95.


As for medical care, if I needed to visit a doctor, I simply called my general practice and booked an appointment. I be seen and obtain a prescription (if required) and off I went; the visit cost nothing. The prescription charges are $10.59 per item, or you can pay a monthly subscription for $10.91 over 12 months. If I needed to visit a hospital emergency room, I just went. I didn't receive a bill, I didn't have to wait in line to complete paperwork and validate my identity.

The NHS does have it's disadvantages: It is bursting at the seams. Budgets are overstretched, staff are overworked and underpaid. Morale is slow. Waiting times can be long. If you need a referral to a specialist and need an operation, you may wait longer than in the US, but that is because of the strain on the system.


Conversely, my experience in the US has been the polar opposite.

When I arrived here, I knew it was a priority to obtain insurance. I was aware to to do this through marketplace. Unfortunately, that presents a set of loopholes: You cannot obtain insurance until you have an address here, you can't even get a quote. As I was relocating alone, I had to wait to find a place, and you cannot find a place until you are physically in the area.

Therefore, I had to get insurance coverage as part of my trip. But even that had its limitations.


As a writer, and creative, I qualify for Medicare -- I applied several weeks ago, and am still awaiting a decision. I am fearful of needing medical treatment. My fears have become a reality; I've had had dental pain for a month, but Medicare does not cover most dental care. My medical insurance has limited dental coverage.

Yet, the average cost for just an exam and cleaning in Portland is $290, compared to the national average of $275. I imagine I need some kind of structural undertaking, given the type of pain I am experiencing in two areas. Fillings in Oregon cost on average anywhere from $86-$146. I am looking at a cost of $462 to $582!


I find that prospect frightening. But it is a reality I must face.

To quote the eloquent George Bernard Shaw, "England and America are two countries separated by the same language."

We do speak a common language, but we are so very different. I'd go as far as to say that our healthcare systems are worlds apart too. I hope I make it through.