Jack Tame: Freedom for all; healthcare only for the stinking rich

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American patients receive free dental care from professionals volunteering at a clinic. Photo / AP
American patients receive free dental care from professionals volunteering at a clinic. Photo / AP

In assessing my own physical prowess, I arrived in America early last year with somewhat of an inflated opinion.

Sure, I wasn't sporting a rippling six-pack or benching twice my bodyweight, but neither was I sucking on inhalers, counting pills or crawling the sidewalks of Manhattan on a reinforced mobility scooter.

Born-and-raised in a First World country with a BMI - depending on the day's carrot cake intake - bobbing somewhere at the low end of the scale, 25-years-old. No asthma. Low blood pressure. Not a single cigarette in all my life. And no greater physical complaint than popsicle-stick thighs of a willowy 14-year-old girl.

Yes! I thought. Here I am, America! Young, healthy and keen! Now sign me up for health insurance before I do anything to spoil my luck.

At first I was a little amused when the quotes on premiums came back. Then, as scores of companies pushed me to sign, my surprise turned to outright despair.

As a freelancer, the most basic insurance plans, covering only trips to the ED, would cost me in the vicinity of US$300 ($363) a week. Welcome to the USA.

Only by a stroke of great fortune, as I steeled myself for a life of permanently risking physical and financial ruin, I was guided to a freelancers' union and a health insurance plan a third the previous price.

Still, in two years, for thousands of dollars in payments, my medical attention in the United States extends to a one-off dental check-up and a US$15 flu jab. And I've been intrigued to see how Obamacare might lower the price of my coverage.

When Obama's healthcare plan went live a month ago, I created an account in the first few days. I tried to shop around to compare the options. But a month in, just like millions of other Americans, the official website still won't let me see the deals.

It's a hopeless error. In attempting to fix something as complicated as the US health system you'd think sorting a usable website would be a comparatively easy win.

Still, for all the calls to delay the individual mandate or scrap Obamacare altogether, for a month's delay it's worth considering how life might be in 15 or 20 years.

Americans won't be lamenting a finicky website. They'll be celebrating not having to pay US$300 a week for a basic human right.

- Herald on Sunday

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