The Beauty of Free Health Care

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Ben Cohen
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A reader writes in response to my article on a ridiculous health care bill I received from Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles:

Here's a tale of two cities.It was Tokyo in 1986. As I was due to be transferred to London soon, I was going through a number of farewell do's; some wilder than the others. On one of those drink-a-thons in Roppongi I fell and suffered a cut on my head.The cut wasn't deep and as I was already anaesthesized by drinks I didn't feel the pain, but I was bleeding profusely. Nevertheless I managed to walk to the nearest hospital and received several stitches and a tetanus shot.

I was covered by the corporate health care insurance at the time, but I didn't have the insurance card on me on that night. So the hospital charged me the full whack. I very well remember the price because at the time I thought it was extortionate: Yen 20,000 or 250 bucks in today's exchange rate.

London early 1990's.It was around mid-night and I was in a cab going home from the usual round of pub crawling. Suddenly an oncoming car swerved in front of the cab, which slammed into it. I was unconscious for a few minutes, but woke up to find cuts on my eyelid and on the chin.Ambulance came very quickly and I was whisked to a nearly hospital. I was on the operating table and given several stitches; I was also asked if I had been given a tetanus shot before.But they didn't ask my name or demanded to see my passport (I was obviouly a non-Brit) or any papers at all.

In an hour or so I was well enough to go home, and asked for the bill. They said it's free.I think I did a double-take and asked again. Nada, zilch, nothing. I was astonished.

As I felt bad about getting all this treatment off British taxpayers' money, a few days later I offered to donate some money to the hospital's favorite charity, which was accepted.

NHS is not without its problems. Personally I think they should charge people like me who can afford to pay. But I think there is much to admire in the moral beauty of a system that treats the injured - no question asked, no money charged. After all, isn't this the Christian ideal?(Caveat: I am not a Christian.)