Health care in USA and China: personal experience

Tom Daschle has been appointed by Obama to try to pursue a goal that has not been reached after decades of efforts: “affordable, accessible health care for every single American”. As they said, 45 million Americans have no health insurance and face runaway costs in the sector.
The U.S. certainly has one of the most advanced health care facilities and specialists. But cost is exorbitant and even so service can be very soso (unless you spend a fortune). One of the main reasons I would never go and live there.
In China, the sector has some parallels with the U.S. Actually, health care over here can be excellent, if you have the right guanxi and your credit card ready. While sometimes expensive (in the foreign clinics), it can also be very cheap. But if one has no money, well, too bad, you’ll die at the doorsteps of the hospital or you ruin the whole family. Genuine health insurance is here still pretty rare. Chinese save so much because they know they have nobody to rely on for their retirement and health. Now China is trying hard to improve this but it will be a daunting task. China might learn from the U.S. – if – they succeed in their plan.
My experience here has been tested in 2008 with a couple of unpleasant problems. Chronic bronchitis, a result of the horrendous pollution, is now under good control thanks to all the good care and recommendations of Vista Clinic and, to a certain extent, Peking Union Medical College Hospital (“Xiehe”). Vista is rather expensive but service is great. Xiehe is typical Chinese: chaotic, a labyrinth of buildings and consultation offices, complicated paying methods, all often frustrating. But they have some real good doctors and costs are very low. For a foreigner going there without help, forget it.
My nasty back problem made me look for many opinions as I wanted to make sure that I got the right advise. Xiehe was pretty good (after all the frustrated waiting) and medication received deemed correct.
The first opinion was at Beijing Chaoyang Traditional Hospital, a less-known hospital in Gongti Nan Lu where I go most – it’s next door. The hospital is now renovated and though “very Chinese” it is rather easy and quick. Little or no waiting to get X-rays or laboratory tests done. Cheap. Their medication, after due verification, was not as bad as originally thought but their conclusion was depressing: “no more running for you”. OK…
They ordered an MRI, done in Beijing Dongzhimen Hospital. Very “Chinese”, confusing and complicated but with help, rather quick. In many countries you have to wait months to have an MRI, here I got it in 24 hours. Reasonable price too I guess.
Another opinion – and more medication – came from Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, a depressingly huge place where you better have a car to go around. And if you don’t have the “guanxi” you won’t have access to the top specialists like I had. So, for me it was OK as I was accompanied by a whole delegation of helpers, drivers, etc. The verdict there was again in line with all other Chinese doctors, though more focused: “no operation”, lots of rest, take it easy etc. Did not dare to ask if running was part of my future.
And no, I did not go and try Beijing United Family Hospital as those guys start having a rather poor reputation (extremely expensive and not always correct & efficient).
The final opinion came from SOS International Clinic (on recommendation from Vista!). The clinic is brand new and real large. Worked out well, expensive – yes. Received the most optimistic opinion: it ain’t so bad (for my age), no operation as for now, just physiotherapy. And: “you can still run some more marathons”! No further medication here as what I am taking right now seems OK. Verdict: “lumbar stenosis”, not exactly something to make you happy but considering I must have this since decades and I ran TWO marathons last year… We’ll see.
So, slowly recovering, no travel as for now as sitting in a plane for many hours and suffering in airports is NOT recommended…
Well, time to start writing my book.

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