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A primer on Socialist medical service

No sooner I complained about not having a Russian store nearby that Natasha found one. It is in no way comparable to the ones we loved so much in the States, it does not have hot kitchen – and the owners actually do not speak Russian – but it is only a couple of miles away and it sells such essentials as шпроты and сайра.

Actually, Natasha found from Kimmy’s classmate’s parents – who are Russians from Lithuania – that there is a big Russian-food база somewhere in the area of my offices. And reputedly there are quite a few of them in London. We are going to explore that imminently.

But most importantly, today, we got reacquainted with the socialist approach to medical services.

Kimochka complained of a sore throat and developed a slight fever overnight. We immediately think – strep. In the States, Natasha would have called our pediatrician, went with Kimmy to the office, paid $15 copay, picked a prescription for antibiotic, went to the pharmacy, paid another $30 copay, and the child would be on the mend. It goes without the saying that the doctor, whom we like and trust, would give Kimmy a thorough examination…

Well, as they say, you are not in Kansas anymore. First of all, I have heard some sketchy advice on how the British healthcare works, but in all the latest excitement, we neglected to take the initial steps of setting this up for ourselves.

The basic healthcare is free under National Healthcare System, as long as you are registered with a General Practitioner. There is not a distinction between pediatricians and internists (although I suspect that somewhere pediatric specialization exists).

We are obviously not registered with anybody yet. I get on the phone and start calling all local offices (which are commonly called surgeries) to inquire who would be able to see us. The common theme is that we can come in for emergency treatment, but there may be a charge at the discretion of the doctor.

Now, I am actually paying for a health insurance. Only it turns out that it is needed for “non-basic” services, i.e. when a GP refers you to a specialist. In other words, it is truly an “insurance”, not unlike the home or automobile one – you pay for it, but hope to never use it. Long story short, my private insurance is useless when all I need is for a doctor to write a prescription.

Anyway, I pick the nearest office, we jump into a car, drive over, fill out minimal information on a form (literally, name, birth date, address – that’s all), and a doctor sees us in a few minutes.

The guy sits in an office behind the desk. There is no examination table, no scales, if there is a blood pressure monitor, I have not noticed it. We sit on chairs in front of him. He asks us three or four questions. Then he looks at Kimmy’s throat and measures her temperature with an ear monitor. Yep, it’s an infection. He writes a prescription and bids us farewell. He does not take a listen – I did not see a stethoscope either! – nor does he check hear ears or feels her tummy.

But, it’s apparently free! Truly, you get what you pay for.

Well, maybe I’ll get a bill in the mail for an obscene amount of money, but I sort of inquired of the receptionist on the way out, and from her response it did not look like any sort of charge would be forthcoming.

Furthermore, I go to a pharmacy, hand in my prescription slip, wait for 3 minutes – none of the it will be ready in about 15 minutes crap – and get handed the medicine… without being asked for money.

At this point, I should be suspicious of the quality of the product, but I actually find myself somewhat pleased. Treating a simple infection would cost me $45 bucks at home. Nothing at all here. Socialism rules!

Natasha’s top task for the next several days is to research nearby offices and get us registered at one. Kimmy is already feeling better, but this weekend we will probably not go anywhere.

In other news, Becky only needed to spend a week and a half at her new school to find herself part of a performance.

Her school got itself a brand-new theater, which happened to be opening this week. What timing! All year-sevens (that’s British for “7th grade students”) were drafted into performing in a Broadway-themed show for the grand opening. Even though rehearsals started in September, performing arts teachers included Becky in several numbers. She only sang as part of the chorus, but had a fantastic time nevertheless. For several days in a row, all we heard from her were the songs that she would be singing (and it may continue for a while).

We are more convinced now that we made a right choice with her school.


  1. Vodyanoi

    I am puzzled by your use of the word ‘socialist’ in this context.

    Is the provision of free public libraries, free public education, free fire services, etc. in the U.S. ‘socialist’?

    Perhaps you mean ‘socialized’?

  2. Ilya

    One of the definitions of the word socialize happens to be “to make socialistic; establish or regulate according to the theories of socialism”. I admittedly did not do a good job in this post to emphasize the nature of the service, but its no-cost aspect had nothing to do with me using the word socialist. It was just a reflection of my view that an essential service that is socialized to the level of central government deserves to be called “socialist[ic]”. (Incidentally, I do not believe that any “socialized” service in the US is regulated by the federal government; “universal” healthcare does not portend to be one, either.)

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