Tag Archives: socialized medicine

Yikes! I’m British! (God Save The Queen?)

“Do you think it’s OK if I wear my bike clothes to the swearing in ceremony?” my husband asked, on our way out the door.

I thought about it for a second. “Um…no?”

We were on our way to the local Town Hall to obtain our British citizenship. Though I don’t usually stand on ceremony, something told me that showing up to pledge your loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen in neon cycling attire might not cut it in our adopted country.

I was right.

I have no idea how they do citizenship ceremonies in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, it’s a big deal. You process into this grandiose chamber that looks like a mini House of Commons – replete with a horseshoe of ornate green chairs centered round a main dais – and then stand – in unison – as the Mayor of your Borough (county) is announced and marches in.

I don’t say “marches” lightly. She was dressed in a bright red cloak with fur lining. Around her shoulders was a Chain of Office covered in silver shields.  The gentleman escorting her into the chamber was carrying an enormous, four-foot long golden mace which he set on a table in front of the Mayor. This over-sized scepter had the curiously menacing effect, as if none of us would-be citizens should dare speak out of turn whilst it was laid before us. A large photo of Queen Elizabeth II sat to the right.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side (“Real Women. Real Opinions.”) where I’m now a contributor…


Image: http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/news/2013/05/07/quietly-queen-elizabeth-ii-prepares-for-the-end/

What UK’s Breast Implant Scandal Tells Us About Health Care Reform

These days, product recalls are nothing out of the ordinary. From children’s toys to Tylenol, you locate the offending item, send in your receipt, and with any luck, get a refund. But when the recall in question concerns a breast implant – as it does right now in a scandal here in the U.K. – then the process is a quite bit more complicated.

In case you haven’t heard, silicone breast implants made with P.I.P. – an industrial grade silicone – by a French company have now been declared faulty, exposing women to ruptures, leaks and possible risks of cancer. Over the past 12 years, some 300,000 of these implants were sold to women around the globe in more than 65 countries, predominantly in Europe and South America. (The United States banned this product and declared it unsafe.)

The French government has recently recalled all P.I.P. implants and agreed to pay for their removal, but only for women who’d had the original surgery done in France. The British government maintains that the link between P.I.P. implants and cancer is far lower than suggested by French data. It has agreed to pay for any removal on implants performed by the National Health Service (NHS) over the past decade (primarily those linked to breast cancer reconstructive surgery). But this accounts for only about 5% of the 40,000 women who’ve had implants in this country during that time.

As for the remaining 38,000 or so cases, the government is urging private clinics to perform the recalls for free on moral grounds. (As a last resort, the government will step in to pay for removal of implants put in in a private clinic that has closed or is unwilling to provide the service.

And this is where things get interesting.

Read the rest of this story at The Washington Post’s She The People Blog


Image: breast implant 5 by matthewlucas via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Savor About London

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, I’m back.

Back from a lovely holiday in Barcelona. (Thanks to my Facebook friends for setting me straight on Stephen Sondheim. Turns out I’m not alone in having such an intimate familiarity with all things Sondheim. I’m in good Company you might say. Heh heh…)

Back from a last-minute, whirlwind trip to Boston.

And back from a 5 day, take-no-prisoners assault on my inbox, which I’m pleased to report is down to a manageable 67 messages. I feel at least 10 pounds lighter. More on that next week.

Whenever I travel to the United States, I can’t help but take note of the things I really love about living there and the things that I’m not so keen about. On this particular trip, the first category of items was dominated by the elegant, LARGE digital washing machine and tumble dryer that reside in the home of the friends who hosted us in Boston.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my ongoing “issues” with the ecologically-correct-but-essentially-worthless-tubs-which-pass-for-washer-slash-dryer-combos in this country. Suffice to say, they’re for the birds. So I practically leapt with joy when I realized that I’d accumulated enough laundry during our stay in America to try out my friends’ sleek, modern washing machine and (separate!!) dryer. The lights! The gentle hum! The lovely WARM clothes that emerged at the end of the cycle!


At the other end of the spectrum was the over-load of stuff that you find everywhere you go in America. For me, it hit home when I went into a (two-story) CVS drug store in Harvard Square and literally had to sit down to contemplate the plethora of choices for buying a child’s toothbrush. A tooth brush, mind you!

Inhale to Prepare had a great post awhile back on what she calls the “the “Whuf” question – i.e. “What if we moved back to the States?”

As a fellow expat, I can completely relate. It’s impossible not to. Unless you’re 100% sure that you’ll live abroad your entire life, you constantly weigh the balance between what you’d give up – and what you’d gain – if you were to repatriate. (For an excellent primer on this topic, see Writerhead’s recent discursis on parallel parking.)

Inhale To Prepare asks herself the “Whuf” question rhetorically on a constant basis in order to appreciate more fully the things she loves about living in London. In that vein, here are five things I savor about London:

1. Free Museums. Everyone knows that London is home to some of the most breath-taking museums in the world: The British Museum, Tate Modern, as well as several lesser-known but equally compelling ones. What they don’t always appreciate is that 90% of these are free. That’s right. You just walk in off the street and check out the Elgin Marbles. When we were back in Boston, we tried to visit its storied Museum of Science one morning. The price of entry for a family of four? Eighty bucks. No kidding. Even my 10-year-old thought that it wasn’t worth it. In light of the current economic crisis over here, I’m sure that museums – and other cultural policy institutions – will undoubtedly have to re-think their financing models (and their ticket prices). But for now, boy are government-funded arts organizations hugely valuable to our family.

2. Free Health Care. And speaking of government funded, my quick trip back home also made me value the nationalized health care system they have in place in the U.K. I’ve waxed poetic before about why I prefer the so-called public option. But every time I go back home and face some unforeseen medical issue, I value it all the more. This time, I’d run out of medicine for my migraines and needed to get some more pills. Fortunately, I know plenty of doctors in the States, so I was able to get a prescription called in to a local pharmacy near where we were staying. But I’d forgotten what it is to need health insurance for your prescriptions. I had to wait in a lengthy line to give the pharmacist all of my details (even though I’d never see this place again) and then had to shell out $20 for like six pills because I had no insurance. Yipes! Thank goodness I didn’t need more than six!  Health care may be changing in the U.K. but it will never reach a point where it isn’t universally provided. And for that, dear Britannia, I am eternally grateful.

3. The BBC. I love you, NPR. Really I do. But pound for pound, you are no match for the BBC in terms of breadth of programming, depth of worldwide coverage and no-holds-barred interviewing styles. I came home to a riveting analysis of the whole Royal Wedding thang followed by a dissection of the philosophical foundations of free will. What’s not to love?

4. Fast food. This may sound like an odd item to add to the list of  someone who’s openly slammed America’s love affair with fast food in the past. And don’t get me wrong: the U.K. has its share of disgusting fast food. (And a corresponding obesity crisis to go with it.) But there are some really great, healthy fast food chains that I’d love to see transplanted to America. Check out this slideshow to preview just a few.

5. The weather. Ah, now you surely *will* call me crazy. But not so fast. Yes, it does rain here. A lot. But not as much as people think. And it’s nothing a good, sturdy pair of Wellies can’t handle. More importantly, it never, ever gets very cold. Proof in the pudding? You can run, year-round, outdoors. That’s right. No need for a gym membership (unless you want one). Ever. Love that.


Image: Wellies by Gerry Balding via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.






Are Americans Polite Because They Feel Superior?

Over the weekend, the English writer Geoffrey Dyer wrote a wonderful essay in The New York Times magazine entitled “My American Friends” in which he argues that Americans are actually remarkably…polite. To which one’s natural instinct is to reply: “What?????” (Or rather…”Pardon???”)

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about his thesis and adding my own two…pence.

Have a look

Image: Smiley American Girl by cproppe via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Seeing Is Believing: Why We Need A Public Health Care Option

As the health care debate heats up in the States, I’m weighing in once again on the joys of socialized medicine over on PoliticsDaily.com.

Today, I’m talking about my husband’s eyesight…bear with me.

It’s a post about what his contact lens coverage under the NHS tells us about the dire state of those who live in America with “pre-existing conditions.”

Have a look (no pun intended!)….and please do leave a comment. This debate has reached a boiling point!

Image: 115/365 E FP – TOP by foreverdigital via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Become A Vegetarian (By a Non-Vegetarian)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post was inspired by an article in the Washington Post that caught my eye. It noted that the American Dietetic Association has recently adjusted its guidelines to state that vegetarian diets can be healthy for children as well as adults.

Personally, I love meat. Bacon…steak…lamb chops. Bring it on. Plus, I’ve got a kid who’s allergic to most fish and nuts. So that pretty much ensures that we’ll continue to eat meat for some time as a family. Still, the more I learn about vegetarianism (and the more films I see about the meat-processing industry – see below) the more I call my own carnivore tendencies into question.

So in the grand spirit of “Do as I say, not as I do,” here are five reasons you should become a vegetarian:

1. Slaughtering animals is vile. Don’t believe me? Go see Fast Food Nation. That should safely do it for cows. Still don’t believe me? Go see the new documentary, Food, Inc. There goes chicken!

2. Tofu is surprisingly OK. Let’s face it, tofu is gross. It looks weird, feels weird and tastes weird. But if you slather it with enough sauce it’s just fine. And very, very good for you.

3. Vegetarians have less cancer. Or so this new study claims.

4. Vegetarians aren’t all freak shows. The single best defense of vegetarianism I’ve ever read was by Taylor Clark in Slate Magazine about a year ago. And he doesn’t like tofu either!

5. Vegetarians may have better Sex. The jury’s still out on this one but hey, why not try it and see?


If you’re interested, have a look at my piece on universal health care in yesterday’s Politics Daily entitled “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Socialized Medicine.”

Image: An Experiment in Vegetarianism by Supernalorealm via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading for the Weekend

This Friday I direct you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. One of my hobby horses is how the reality of socialized medicine often differs from the rhetoric surrounding it. So I was intrigued by the New York Times’ David Leonhart’s analysis of rationing in the U.S. health care system.

2. As we settle in to the second year of this recession, I was delighted to discover – via a friend – Daniel Seddiqui’s fascinating blog Living the Map: 50 Jobs in 50 States, in which he recounts his attempt to “try on” 50 different careers in 50 different states. Equally heartening  was this piece in the Guardian discussing the boom in adult internships here in the U.K. I’m a big fan of experimenting with different careers. Way to go!

3. My writer/journalist friend here in London, DD Guttenplan, has a new book out entitled American Radical: The Life and Times of IF Stone, about America’s premier investigative journalist of the 20th century. At a time when print journalism appears to be going the way of the travel agent, it’s instructive to learn about one man’s relentless quest for the truth and to ponder its resonances today. Listen to this interview with the author on Democracy Now.

4. Finally, because we all love to laugh, I was really pleased to happen upon this satirical blog about politics (mostly aimed at a British audience): Anna Raccoon. I also got a kick out of Middle Aged Cranky‘s rant against technology.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things I've Learned About Women's Health in the U.K.

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Today’s post is inspired by my visit yesterday to a woman’s health clinic here in London. (I was going to title it “Madame Ovary” – clearly I’m spending way too much time scanning clever literary lines for my own good.)

As with other forms of health care, women’s health is also done a bit differently over here. And so, as part of my ongoing obsession with socialized medicine, today I thought I’d share a few things I’ve picked up along the way regarding women’s health:

1. All questions are referred to an advice sister. Yup. That’s what they call her. Not “our consultant” or “the on-call/duty doctor.”  An advice sister. It sounds so comforting. And given my penchant for therapy, I was half inclined to ask her if I could hang out all day and talk about some non women’s health-related things. I mean, hey, it’s free, right?

2. You don’t necessarily see an OB/Gyn. This is probably also true in some women’s health clinics in the United States, but here you only see an OB if you’re having a baby and a gynecologist if you’ve got a serious (gynecological) problem. For pretty much anything else – routine exams, birth control, infections, you name it – you can see anyone ranging from your general practitioner (GP) to a sexual health expert, a family planning expert, to an AIDS professional. It’s very rare to actually see a (specialist) doctor.

3. Speculum come in different sizes. Who knew? Turns out there are medium, medium long, large long, petite…heck, even virgin speculum er…speculae. I’m sure this is also true in other countries, but I just learned this little factoid. (The Virgin Speculum – I hear a Stephen King novel coming on!)

4. IUD’s were first used on camels. Apparently, this was to keep them from getting pregnant on their long treks across the desert back in the Middle Ages. I’m telling you, if you hang around with the advice sister long enough, you get a real education, folks.

5. Women’s health is increasingly DIY. I posted a few weeks back on the strong personal responsibility ethic that pervades socialized medicine. This is particularly true of women’s health, where clinics are encouraging (particularly younger) women to conduct routine tests on themselves. You go into the bathroom with a little kit, read some instructions posted on the wall and voilà – everyone’s a doctor. It’s all very empowering.


Was anyone else thrilled to hear that Pete Seeger – of folk music fame – just celebrated his 90th birthday? Makes you want to break out in song. C’mon everybody: If I Had a Hammer

Image: He Lived his Life like a Camel in the Wind by eNil via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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DIY Healthcare: Why Socialized Medicine Is For Grown Ups

On Thursday I posted about how I’m learning to master differences in vocabulary across the Atlantic divide. After living in the U.K. for two and a half years, I’m also slowly but surely coming to terms with what it’s like to live in a country with universal health care.

For starters, doctors tend to medicate way less over here unless you’re really ill. They also do fewer preventive screenings for things like breast and prostate cancer.

But one of the most surprising aspects of the British National Health System (NHS) is that it actually encourages patients to take more responsibility for monitoring their own health. I say “surprising” because one of the negative stereotypes of socialized medicine is that when you place health care in the hands of the government, you effectively create a nanny state, wherein the government – not the individual – makes decisions about personal health.

But that’s actually not quite right. Precisely because the system is designed to worry – first and foremost – about the population, patients are actually encouraged to do a lot of basic health care on their own.

So, for example, I’m rather fair and freckly by nature – and have a history of skin cancer in my immediate family. Back when I still lived in the United States, those two risk factors meant that I saw a dermatologist once a year to look for irregular moles and such. When I first moved to the U.K., I dutifully made an appointment to do the same thing over here. But the dermatologist I saw here actually discouraged me from coming in annually. Instead, she took some photos, gave me a diskette and told me to go home and continue to monitor my skin carefully. When, as, and if I found something suspicious, I should compare it to the photos and call them if things had changed. DIY skin care, if you will.

“But…but…!” I sputtered. “What if something goes wrong?”

The doctor looked puzzled. “If something ‘goes wrong’ you call us,” she said, matter-of-factly. “After all, you’re going to know there’s a problem long before we do. Just coming here once a year doesn’t prevent skin cancer.”

At first I resisted, insisting on re-booking my annual skin cancer check-up the following year. But the doctor I saw 12 months later said exactly the same thing. “It’s more efficient this way,” he explained. “Because then we see you only when it’s really necessary. But it’s also about teaching you how to look after yourself so that you take more responsibility for your own health care.”

Wow…what a radical idea. And I must admit that it felt a little strange. But you know what? By the third year, I canceled the appointment and took a look at those photos instead. And you know what?  In an age of responsibility, I felt more grown up.


Was anyone else as troubled as I was that the piano is on its way out as a staple of the American living room? I don’t even play the piano and I still felt nostalgic when I learned this!

Image: Second Life: National Health Service (UK): by rosefirerising’s photo stream via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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