The Business of Caring

Perhaps the hardest part of relocating to the US from the UK is getting used to paying to see a doctor.

I tried to make an appointment today with a GP who was recommended by a friend. After holding on the phone for about five minutes while the receptionist checked to see whether this doctor would even consider taking on a new patient, I found out that the doctor didn’t take my insurance. I said I would pay, and try to get reimbursed. She said she would have to check if that would be OK, and get back to me.

In the UK, your local GP has to take you on. And it’s free — or at least, included in your National Insurance payments.

Drugs are free in the UK for children under the age of 7. So is medicine for mothers of children under the age of 1, and pregnant women. My birth control bills were free, before I had kids. I never figured out why.

So when I took my sick son to the pediatrician here in the US, having to pay $90 (not including the $5 parking charge) was a rude awakening.

Of course, in the UK, I used to complain that our “free” GP wasn’t a specialist. In the waiting room, the age range ran from babies to the elderly. I always wondered how one doctor would be able to recognize afflictions in that huge range of ages. So at least the $90 gets you a visit with an expert.

The Cigna slogan — “the business of caring” — always made me laugh, because it begs the question: “If it weren’t a business, would they care?”

Of course, the UK doctors have to see patients, because that’s their government issued mandate. So it’s a business either way. Maybe the right way is somewhere in between.

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