I had an experience last week that has caused me to believe that National Healthcare has definitely begun even before any final legislation has been passed. To be clear, my information is anecdotal and based upon my own personal experience in the City of Philadelphia PA where like most folks -- especially those who have children or who travel extensively -- I've been preoccupied about getting the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it was available. I typically get the seasonal flu vaccine in mid to late September and this year was no exception. I found it very easy to go to my local CVS Pharmacy, present my insurance card, roll up my sleeve; "in and out" in 15 minutes.
But getting the H1N1 vaccine was very different and seemed very difficult using my insurance covered healthcare process. But once I figured out what to do, getting the vaccine was not only easy but extremely efficient ... and therein lies the story behind my belief that we have already moved to National Healthcare.
In mid October I had my annual physical examination and inquired about getting the H1N1 vaccine. My primary physician who is really a great MD (I've been seeing him for over 12 years) reported he did not have it and did not know when he would. I asked if he and his staff had been vaccinated and again he said no they had no access to the vaccination. His waiting room was full of folks with what seemed to be respiratory conditions and he confirmed that he was seeing a large increase in flu type symptoms. I asked what he was doing to prevent contracting H1N1, and he replied "lot's of hand washing". So I left thinking I'd periodically check the H1N1 availability status of his office and also that of CVS Pharmacy.
Fast forward to late November and I still have not been vaccinated. The news, whether it is internet, TV, radio or newspapers were full of stories where people who really needed to be vaccinated were unable to find H1N1 vaccines at their regular doctor offices or clinics. And as I'm sure everyone knows, there is a tiered system designed to ensure that vaccine availability is prioritized for individuals with certain medical conditions. The primary targets for initial vaccinations include pregnant women, all infants and patients < 24 years of age, healthcare workers, adults taking care of infants < 6 months of age and adults 24-64 with specific chronic medical conditions (diabetes, renal disease, COPD, angina or cancer). Being type 2 diabetic, I believed it was important that I get vaccinated.
I called my primary physician's office on the morning of November 25th. I believe my call was answered by the Office Manager as I know it was not the receptionist. The answer to my question about H1N1 availability was once again
Office Manager- "we don't have it"
GB- "do you know when you will have it"
Office Manager– "no"
GB– "I'm struggling with the fact that you don't know"
Office Manager– "The problem is we don't have a National Healthcare system in place" ... "Here's a number for the City of Philadelphia, have this discussion with them"
So I called the number provided (thinking it would be the City Department of Health Services), and was greeted by the "311" operator (311 is the Philadelphia non emergency contact number). I explained that I thought there was an issue that local physicians didn't seem to be part of any plan to distribute the vaccine. The operator said she would have her supervisor call back. I immediately received the call and had the same discussion. The supervisor said the vaccine was now available at Free Health Clinics around Philadelphia and I could get one by simply going and requesting the vaccine.
As it happens, there is a free clinic directly across the street from my condo building. I've been wondering about this place the 4 years I've lived in the neighborhood. Little did I know I was about to have an experience that would dramatically change the way I think about healthcare.
I entered the clinic and was immediately "greeted at the door" by a friendly staff member asking how they could help me. I said I was hoping to get an H1N1 vaccination. I was then ushered to a table where there was only 1 person being waited on. I was asked to show identification, give my birth date and answer if I had any underlying medical issues. I signed a couple of papers and went directly to the room where the shots were being administered. Again I was immediately ushered in and given the vaccine. Total time from entering the clinic to leaving the building was under 10 minutes!
Everyone I came into contact with at the free clinic was courteous, friendly and extremely helpful. This experience caused a number of questions to come to mind:
1. I buy health insurance and have a regular primary physician and get regular check-ups. Why wouldn't my physician who runs a major well known and well respected practice not have access to the H1N1 vaccine?
2. People less fortunate who do not have the means to buy health insurance and who in many cases do not have a regular physician can walk in off the street and get the H1N1 vaccine. Should they be getting first access?
3. Why weren't there long lines waiting to get vaccinated as it is apparent there are shortages and basic supply/demand issues everywhere?
4. Are those individuals who are truly at risk from serious H1N1 complications including death getting the vaccine on a priority basis? (I don't think so.)
Now I'm not opposed to everyone having access to medicines and medical treatment (on the contrary, I believe everyone including non US citizens and illegal aliens should have access). What I do find strange is that those of us who are paying for health insurance and trying to use the private system are having problems getting the vaccine (or at least this is what happened in my case).
One thing I feel confident in saying based upon my personal experience is that the Free Healthcare Clinic channel was much more effective for getting the H1N1 vaccine than my usual private insured healthcare system. Could this be our governments' way of showing the American people how effectively they can administer healthcare? I've probably watched too many conspiracy related programs recently, but it is certainly something to contemplate.