President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most memorable statement is certainly: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The thought comes to mind whenever our society is faced with the need for change. The statement applies well to a widespread fear that many citizens and leaders have for “socialized medicine.” The opposition to comprehensive medical care for all of our society’s members is not based on actual experience but on fear and prejudice.
We are writing this letter to provide some actual experience from our family whose members have been long-term residents of Denmark. Our brother, Stephen, was given the diagnosis of terminal cancer of the pancreas in September 2012. He is 72 years old, and his days are numbered. His wife is a school teacher, and she has leave from her teaching job with full pay for as long as her husband is alive. The two have decided to wage the struggle against the disease in their home. A palliative team of doctor and nurse comes regularly to the house for treatments. All medicines are free of charge in terminal cases like our brother’s, as is all medical and hospital care under the Danish health system.
In Denmark, the comprehensive medical and surgical costs for the entire population are paid from tax revenues (such as income, sales, excise, property), and the bureaucratic administration of payments is minimal. One is never asked by a physician or nurse: “Do you have medical insurance to cover the costs?” The medical service applies to all citizens, as well as those immigrants who have permanent residence. There is widespread trust in the medical care programs, even with some imperfections in practice.
This system is sometimes referred to as “cradle to grave” care. With pregnancy, the expectant mother has frequent examinations and advice from midwives, physicians and nurses. When an infant and its mother come home from the hospital after delivery, a visiting nurse comes to their home regularly to check the health conditions of both and to listen to the mother’s experience. This is also part of the society’s public health system, an element that is highly appreciated. For our brother and his wife, the medical team brings relief from pain. A physiotherapist gives treatment for his wife’s sore muscles.
To conclude this letter, let us return to FDR’s famous statement: What is there to fear in a medical care program for all of our society’s members?
If the phrase “socialized medicine” is still threatening, let’s hope that threat is felt only by an increasingly smaller segment of the American population.
David Schwartz, M.D., is a resident of Grass Valley. Jonathan Schwartz is a resident of Elsinore, Denmark. Their brother is Stephen Schwartz, also a resident of Elsinore, Denmark.