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Former UK Resident Learns the Hard Way About U.S. Health Care Obstacles

KPBS' Right to Health compares American privatized medicine with government funded, universal health care in Canada. From the beginning of this project, we've been flooded with personal accounts of hardships in the health care system, including this one from former U.K. resident Stewart Forster. SDSU Backpack Journalist Melissa Harrison has the story.

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Former U.K. resident Stewart Forster underwent surgery in America in 2002 for prostate cancer -- a procedure covered by his then-employer. But four years later, as a self-employed businessman, Forster needed open heart surgery. He was refused individual healthcare coverage because of his cancer history, and his medical bills -- which were then solely his responsibility -- totaled almost $250,000.

Forster: "Since then, while my health situation has steadily improved, my financial situation has steadily deteriorated."

U.S. vs. Canada:
Forster says the biggest plus about the U.K and Canada's system is the peace of mind that it provides. He says citizens don't have to worry about whether or not a medical problem is covered, or if they can afford treatment, because the answer is always yes.  To Forster, this translates into economic benefit as well, since prevention often costs less than a cure-all.

"By freeing people from these concerns, they can -- and do -- seek medical care at an earlier stage of a health problem, rather than wait until they absolutely have to get treatment. Their principle concern is [instead] to get well."

But Forster also highlights admirable traits in the U.S. system.

"We have some of the finest, most professional, caring individuals on the planet working in our health care system. I've been fortunate enough to have been treated by a few of them."

Right vs. Privilege:
Forster believes that a nation's healthcare system should reflect the people behind it. "Why wouldn't we want to take care of the sick in our society? Isn't it our privilege to do just that? We fail to provide health care coverage for approximately 50 million Americans. We can, and should, do much better than this."
Biggest Offense:
Our ever-inflated operating costs. Forster, citing data from The Economist, says the U.S. healthcare system costs almost twice as much per person than any other developed country. According to Forster, we need to streamline our system, slash overhead costs  and focus most on improving financial efficiency.

What to Change:
Citizen mindset. Forster says we need to recognize that our healthcare system affects our nation at every single level. He points to the "enormous burden" the current system places on the backbone of our economy: businesses.

“We need to understand the real costs of lost productivity of workers worrying about not just their own heath care, but also that of their family,” Forster said.

Forster learned the hard way that American healthcare often harbors surprises. He cautions others about the system's obstacles, which can often hit when one least expects it -- like it did for him.

"What happened to me, could happen to a lot of people, and a lot more easily than they think. Even people who believe that they have adequate coverage through their employment shouldn't be complacent.  If it happens to even one person, that's one too many."

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