Although we have taken our son to the doctor twice since we arrived in Australia last June, I hadn't been a patient here until this morning. We are currently covered only by the government's Medicare program, to which every Australian resident is entitled. This provides basic coverage for nearly everything medically necessary, as well as hospital expenses, as long as you can put up with longer wait times for some sorts of surgeries and a more limited choice of medical care. We plan to enrol in a private supplemental plan as well, but our total health care costs will still be much lower than what we paid back in the States.
Anyway, seeing a doctor here for something routine is much easier than what we faced back in Atlanta. I needed a general check-up, and a particular prescription refilled, so we called on Wednesday to the clinic where my son has been to schedule an appointment. It turned out that all sorts of appointments were available that afternoon, the next day, and today, so we picked one that was easy for me this morning. Back in the States, I might have waited 4-6 weeks before I could see my physician for a similar visit. When I showed up to the clinic, I filled out a brief health history and showed the receptionist my Medicare card. I was charged $62 for the visit because that clinic charges "private" fees, but we will get about half of that reimbursed from the local Medicare office. While I waited in the reception, I noticed that an assistant was putting a sign outside on the sidewalk announcing "Doctor Open." I can't remember a time when I saw a physician trying to snag passers-by in the U.S.
The doctor, who also sees my son because pediatricians are more of a speciality here, was quite nice and generally thorough. He asked me a few questions, took my blood pressure, and gave me a referral sheet so that I can get lab tests done and a new prescription for my old complaint. I didn't have to wait in a tiny room before seeing him, and he wasn't more than 5 minutes late for the appointment. He told me that I didn't need a prostate exam until I was 50 (they start at 40 y.o. back in the States), but I had one just over a year ago anyway. There was no other physical exam. I didn't feel rushed, but the appointment was over in about 10 minutes.
I immediately crossed the street to a chemist at the corner and got my prescription filled in five minutes (again, at heavily subsided price because of the Medicare coverage). I can get my lab tests done any morning without an appointment at a place near our home--again, paid for by Medicare.
In sum, it feels so much easier to get proper medical treatment here. My comparison, of course, is to what we had in Atlanta, so it could be just as easy in other parts of America or the rest of the world. V. has remarked that the doctors here aren't as thorough as their counterparts in the States, but she thinks that's because they aren't as concerned about medico-legal liability here. If the U.S. is looking for some new ideas about how to get universal health coverage, I recommend that the next administration consider what Australia is providing with Medicare. There are some definite problems here, but they mostly have to do with a critical shortage of doctors and nurses as a result of overly restrictive university admissions about a decade ago. I, for one, am a happy, healthy camper.