Dutch Health Care: A U.S. Model


After teaching one night class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse for 8 years between 1995 and 2003, I looked into turning my part-time contract into a full-time position, so I could have health insurance. Although the pay for teaching 3 to 4 classes per semester, as a non-tenured lecturer, was not great, the insurance was attractive, since it was absolutely unaffordable at my self-employed day job.

As luck would have it, a tenured professor resigned in 2003, and a position opened. So, I ceased to be self-employed, and started lecturing full-time. 15 months later, while finishing my last class of the day, I noticed a severe pain across my chest and into my arms, as I was having my first heart attack. At the hospital in Wisconsin, 2 stents were inserted to open my vessels. Luckily, the university’s health care paid all of the charges in the amount of $44,523. I was fortunate to have dodged a bullet with insurance.

After the search committee at Wisconsin finally found a new Phd, I moved to the Netherlands to participate in a one-year program at Utrecht University. To live there, I was required by law to have health insurance. So, in 2006, I purchased a Dutch plan for an annual premium of 445 Euro, the equivalent of $567. No questions were asked about pre-existing conditions or prior care.

Five months after arriving in the Netherlands, I had a second heart attack in Dec. 2006. The Dutch care was different, in that it was better. Unlike Wisconsin, where I laid there for what seemed to be an eternity, before permission from the insurance carrier was obtained to keep me alive, the Dutch doctors went right to work, as they knew everyone in their country was covered. They didn’t have to waste any time asking about coverage.

A cardiologist inserted two stents in my heart, and opened up my arteries, including one that had been 100% blocked, but written off in Wisconsin, because the American doctors thought it was too hard to get to. I was copied in on the Dutch ambulance, hospital and doctor bills, and they totaled 7,024 Euro, which translated to $8,920.00. My care in Holland was only one-fifth the cost of the identical care in Wisconsin, but in some ways much better. I was very fortunate to have had my second heart attack on their soil.

I learned several lessons from having virtually identical heart procedures in Wisconsin in Dec. 2004, and in Holland in Dec. 2006: 1) Dutch health insurance premiums are significantly lower and affordable; 2) Dutch insurance asked no questions about pre-existing conditions or care; 3) Dutch doctors got to work immediately, without wasting any time trying to find out if I was covered, since everyone is covered; 4) Dutch charges for the identical treatment of inserting two stents in my heart was only one-fifth the U.S. costs; 5) Dutch follow-up care was superb, as I never waited very long at all to see a doctor; 6) Dutch care, all things considered, was better than what I received in the U.S.

Politically, the lessons are: 1) Don’t listen to right-wing nut jobs, who try to convince Americans that European health care is somehow sub-standard, since it is not; 2) If the Dutch can cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, then so can we. 3) If the Dutch can run their health insurance companies, while charging much lower premiums, so can we; 4) If the Dutch can operate their hospitals on one-fifth the billings and costs, then so can we. We in the U.S. should consider the Dutch health care model.

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