I may never be able to convince a Trump voter not to vote for Trump, but I can tell them what it's like for an American to live with “socialist” healthcare and education in Europe.
Friday 23 October 2020
“If you vote for Biden, you vote for socialism/the radical left”. This seems to be the scare tactic Republicans are using as they desperately fight to keep their incumbent president seated.
And like clockwork, Democrats twist and turn, trying to avoid being pinned with the campaign killing “socialist” label. Only Bernie Sanders has the actual chutzpah to proudly accept his policy proposals as socialist.
Tweets by President Trump portray Biden as weak on socialism (and those are just the polite ones). Or they accuse Democrats of plotting to turn the United States into a SOCIALIST NATION, firing up his base with angry denouncements of the radical left and how they're not going to let that happen in the good old US of A.
I may never be able to convince a Trump voter not to vote for Trump, but maybe I can shed some light on what it's like to live in a “socialist” (cue scary music) democracy. Almost 18 years ago, I left my home state of California for Belgium and what I found surprised me.
Aside from the near constant rain and grey skies of Brussels, we live so well in Europe – so much better than in America. Yes, better than in America. Not only because the food is of higher quality, the prices of almost everything are lower or because it's easy to hop on a plane and within an hour or two arrive some place where they speak a different language, like Barcelona or Berlin. It is superior because almost every single country in Europe provides universal services like healthcare, education, paid maternity leave, and care for the elderly, unemployed, and children.
Before I moved from Los Angeles to Brussels at the age of 33, I had almost never seen a doctor. So my first order of business, even before treating myself to frites and chocolate, was splurging on private health insurance. I met with an insurance broker, a pale, bespectacled young man, who made some calculations and determined the best plan for me, a young woman with no prior health issues, was a hospitalisation plan.
Sixty dollars a month. Barely able to contain my glee ($60/month!!!?), I casually asked what exactly this would cover. He read from a list –100% reimbursement of hospitalisation costs, year-round reimbursement of medical costs for 30 serious illnesses, coverage before, during and after hospitalisation, yadda, yadda, yadda, up to $12,000. I slammed back down to earth. Ouch. That wouldn't even cover one night in a hospital, I complained bitterly.
He looked at me in utter bewilderment. “I really can't think of any treatment that would cost over $12,000,” he said.
I rattled off a number of diseases that could easily surpass $12,000: multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia, a busted collar bone, a baby, the common cold. Again, he shook his head. Spending over $12,000 on healthcare was beyond his mental capacity. For a further $50 a month, I could also have all of my doctor's visits and prescription drugs covered but he determined that wasn't necessary for me.
I tested his theory a few years later when I delivered my first born. I spent five days, as is customary in Belgium, in a private hospital room with round the clock care. If, at 3am I couldn't get my baby to latch on, I had simply to push a button and a nurse came to my aid. A physical therapist worked with me daily to strengthen my pelvic floor and a pediatrician checked and weighed the baby every morning.
The five-day stay, including the epidural, came to $3,000. My insurance covered all of it. If I had gone to a public university hospital, it would have only cost $500. At those prices, I practically didn't need insurance. And after all that, I still had four months paid maternity leave.
I am now a Belgian citizen, which means I have universal healthcare or the “mutuelle” as it is called. A doctor's visit costs anywhere from $40 to $95 and the mutuelle will cover about 75%. A short visit to a doctor in California starts at $150.00. The mutuelle also gives me $355 a month to help cover the costs of my two children.
I dare not ask.
The nagging fear I used to live with about my fate should I ever get sick is gone and, with it, an enormous weight. I know that if any illness befalls my children or me, we will receive the best care. And it makes me feel good knowing that all of my compatriots receive proper healthcare too, even the poorest. It's hard enough being poor, without the additional worry of what to do if you fall sick.
Part of why healthcare costs are so low is because while doctors make a very good living, they don't make an outrageous living. Most people in Belgium don't. If they do, they are taxed (Belgians are among the highest taxed people in the world, though tax dodging is a problem).
This might sound like cruel and unusual punishment but not if you remember that a doctor or lawyer or similar professional earns their degree without the burden of debt. School, which begins as soon as a child is potty-trained, is free. If my children decide to go to university and become doctors and lawyers, it will be free for them as well.
When Americans spit out the word “socialism” as if it were a racial slur, I wonder what system they are so adamantly against. Where do they get their information about what it is like to live in a country that provides universal healthcare, free education and access to public services? Why is access to affordable healthcare and education un-American or un-democratic? Because the money you contribute might pay for someone else's broken hip?
I love America and there are times when I miss it keenly. But I would never move back. When I visit my friends, I am envious for about two days at the size of their paychecks. When I see how much of that money goes towards education, childcare and healthcare and the underlying stress they live with lest one of those expenses unexpectedly skyrocket, my envy is tempered.
They might make more money and pay fewer taxes, but they don't see their kids as much and summer vacation, which is not part of the American employee culture, is plotted secretively behind closed doors, as if they were planning the next great bank heist. In Europe, not only is it expected that people go on holiday, they are literally paid to go on holiday. Belgians receive paid holidays and a 13 month of salary.
Whenever I see my American friends who live in Belgium, we always acknowledge how much luckier we are to live in Europe. Our children go to fantastic schools for free, we have no worries or stress about healthcare, and nobody thinks any less of you because you're openly planning to spend two weeks on a Greek island in July.
So Democrats, the next time you're accused of being socialist, own it. Stop wiggling and squirming and take it as a compliment, with pride. Educate them on what socialism is and reframe it as a positive accolade, not a nasty insult. Remember, they're most likely confusing it with that other dreaded bogeyman – communism.