Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Belgium: Socialism at Work

When you are cruising around, whether it is the world or the Caribbean, you hope not to get sick. In case something doesn’t feel right, you wait until you reach a cheaper country to deal with it, you suffer through what’s going on or you pay for medical help on shore. Medical assistance is practically always cheaper than in the US. Most of the time, however, you are able to swallow some of your onboard medicines or accept the ones offered by other cruisers. This is the most affordable option. When you are really fortunate, you have a doctor amongst your surrounding cruising friends. Since many of us on the water don’t have adequate health insurance, we hope the Sea Gods take mercy on us.

When somebody gets sick in the United States, it takes quite the amount of nausea, tooth ache or pain to check out a doctor. Most (working) people have insurance, but the deductible is high and even the fees are steep. If you get away from a hospital or examination room for under US$ 100, you scored and you are happy. I don’t think that happens frequently.

In Belgium, on the other hand, going to the doctor requires little pain or thought. You have a cough? A little bit of fever? Need a teeth cleaning? Are you sure it’s the flu? Better get it checked out. And, if you really feel crappy and are bed bound, the doctor comes to your door. Your cost? Less than US$ 10. Initially you pay full price, but then you go to your health care provider with the receipt and get most of it back in cash or transferred to your Belgian bank account. At the pharmacy, you pay a relatively small amount and your insurance covers the rest.

Once a year, I am really happy to be a Belgian. I save all my questions, aches and health problems up. I make a list of them and take it with me on my yearly doctor’s visit. At the time of my appointment, we go over the list, my questions are answered, I receive a full check-up, a gynecological exam and some recommendations for specialists if needed. Since recently, my house doctor (as we call our favorite general practitioner) joined a health center and when you are a member, all the care you receive there is totally free. Health insurance is mandatory in Belgium and I pay about US$ 100 a year. That does not include (extensive) coverage abroad for months on end. To me those 100 dollars seem a lot, since I don’t really live in Belgium anymore. So, I better get some return when I visit.

On the home coming program is also a visit to the dentist. Most years, I manage with just a check-up, but this year I have to go back. A cavity. I am annoyed, because that will cost me more. Then again, better get it taken care of here, instead of that unknown place where it will start to hurt, somewhere in the future. That could be in the States and the price there will be incomparable!

My knee has been hurting for a few months, on downhill slopes. I wanted to know what the problem is. Doctor looked at it, appointment in the hospital for a few scans after some painful liquid got injected in my poor knee, later in the day followed a visit to the orthopedist with a conclusion and advice. I should still say hi to a dermatologist and eye doctor this year, but –to be honest- I am a bit doctored out at the moment and hope to add those two chores to next year’s list. The extra visits for knee and teeth cost me less than $100 (on top of the yearly coverage).

Compared to other countries in the world, we, here in Belgium are lucky with our “socialist” “government” (I have to put both in quotes, since technically we still don’t have a government at the moment). To the wallet, health care is cheap and when the cash goes out, most of it will make its way back. We pay for it a different way. Even though Belgians realize they are having it “good” in this country, they also know why and have their answer ready: “We pay for it with taxes!” Income taxes are so high (up to 50% for an average household) that when Belgians talk about their wage, they only mention and (pretend to) know their net income. If we consider how much the employer actually pays for each received pay check, we won’t feel so “good” anymore!

Even the sales tax (21%) is hidden, because it is included in the prices we pay for goods and services. So is gratuity. No tipping necessary in Belgium! Over all, Belgians are pretty happy in their country and with their (lack of) government. 9% of the population is unemployed and none of them will go hungry. Socialism does work!


Anonymous said...

Good post Liesbet!
The worst thing is that most people in Belgium don't realise what a good life we have here... All they do is complain. I challenge them to go and live abroad for a while, to realise how 'spoiled' we all are here!

Liesbet said...

Now, that's exactly why I "live" abroad... I don't want to get used to being spoiled! :-)

Anonymous said...

Here in Canada we don't have a socialist government, in fact, we have a fairly right-wing government.

We DO have public healthcare for everyone, and our VAT (GST) is only 5%. Our income tax rate is about 30% on average.

I like our system of healthcare a LOT more than in the U.S., and having a doctor as a cousin in Germany, I like it better then there also from what he tells me.

Liesbet said...

I've only heard positive things about health care in Canada. That, the friendliness of the people and the nice and beautiful expanse of land makes it a great place to live! If you can deal with cold winters.. :-)