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Thank God for socialized healthcare

Israel's socialized healthcare is becoming the most important benefit of American aliyah
A man undergoes an operation at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man undergoes an operation at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In a few weeks, I expect to have open-heart surgery. Not exactly my idea of fun.

But even as I’m preparing for what I imagine will be a rather unpleasant experience, one phrase comes to my mind, over and over: Thank God for socialized health-care.

You see, I was born with a heart murmur. I was blessed to be born into a family in New York that had insurance, and the passage of Obamacare when I was in college meant I could stay on my parents’ insurance until I moved to Israel.

The first time I went to a doctor in Jerusalem, I asked how much I had to pay. The secretary looked at me like I was crazy. “You have insurance!” I didn’t get it. In New York, I had insurance too, but I still had to pay every time I went to the doctor.

I also was confused by the fact that my insurance only cost NIS 100 ($28.55 at today’s exchange rate) a month. I had the option of getting basic insurance for free (or at least: for the cost of my taxes), but was advised to take the “expensive” option.

When my doctor advised me to see a cardiologist about my heart murmur, I pushed it off. My childhood and adolescent memories of having my chest prodded with a big stick in a dark room were not exactly happy ones.

But then, I went to see a specialist in a field seemingly unconnected to cardiology. “OK, just as a precaution, see your cardiologist, get his go-ahead, and come back to me.” This seemed like another bureaucratic obstacle. I grumbled about red tape and silly rules, and doctors just trying to protect their own behinds.

But it turned out, there was something wrong with my heart, and the silly bureaucratic rules may wind up saving my life.

My visit to the cardiologist and echo-test cost NIS 70 ($20), combined. When I decided to see a private specialist and get a private echo-test, it cost me NIS 350 ($100), combined. The rest was heavily subsidized by my fancy NIS 100 a month insurance.

That’s because, having a free public option available means that if the private cost is prohibitively expensive, not many people will buy it. So even the private medicine has to remain somewhat reasonably priced if it wants to have customers.

When I was a “maybe” for surgery, I had the choice between an appointment with a private specialist in March for NIS 30 ($8.56), or in two weeks, for NIS 175 ($50). When I was a “definite” for surgery, I was given a NIS 30 two-week appointment with a private specialist — again, the rest was paid for by my insurance company.

I am truly blessed -there are some people for whom NIS 200 ($57) is a real break-it-or-make-it expense — but that expense cannot be compared to the cost of healthcare in America — even when adjusting for salary differentials between there and Israel.

I’m extremely lucky to live in a country with socialized healthcare. In America, if I were facing open-heart surgery, I have no doubt that being able to afford the surgery would be a major concern — even if I had insurance. In Israel, that’s not even a factor. If Obamacare is repealed, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to move back to America. Would I be able to find insurance with a pre-existing heart condition that had been operated on? How much would it cost?

Of course, I might feel differently after my surgery experience, but up until now, the medical care I have received has been excellent. I’m really grateful to God that Israel has such advanced medicine, and that is so widely available for a reasonable fee.

As the healthcare debate rages on in the US, I just wanted to add my voice to the large number of personal testimonies of how crucial government-subsidized healthcare can be -and any prayers for the refuah shlemah (complete recovery) of Shayna Sarah Esther bat Blima Shoshana are greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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