A couple of old friends showed up in town a couple of weeks ago. They have retired and lived on their 32-foot sailboat for some years now, plying the waters of the Caribbean and East Coast. It’s a good life. They have their solar panels and all the basic conveniences of life. About all the really have to do is stay out of the way of hurricanes. That and get basic healthcare.

Over lunch recently, Larry told me about a recent experience they had with the Venezuelan national healthcare. It makes me wish Venezuela was running our healthcare system, instead of 1400 different insurance companies. I asked him to send me something to post on my blog and he was happy to oblige. Take a moment to read this short narrative and ask yourself why we couldn’t have something at least as good in the U.S.

Larry writes:

In our previous careers, Debra and I had the benefit of first class health insurance and complete medical coverage. Now that we have been living aboard our sailboat with only high deductible catastrophic coverage, cost is a big issue. Since both of us were healthy, we had postponed medical and dental checkups until we reached a country where health care was considered affordable as well as high quality.

After spending a few weeks getting to know Venezuela, we discovered that this oil-producing country of 26 million people has two separate health care systems. One is the traditional fee-for-service arrangement and the other is a network of free medical care based on a Cuban model. We made use of both systems.

Both of us underwent routine procedures such as mammogram, colonoscopies, blood tests and physical exams in various offices and clinics. Not only were we very satisfied with the quality of service but also impressed with the consideration and unhurried attitude shown by our physicians and technicians. They spent as much time with us as we wanted, patiently explaining details despite a frequent language barrier due to our creaky Spanish. The cost of our treatments, as best we can calculate, ranged from one quarter to one tenth of U.S. prices. Our biggest surprise came from using the free, government-sponsored health care network, known as Barrio Adentro, which accepted no payment of any kind.

As we follow the debate over health care reform in the United States, it is sad to see the richest country on the globe struggle to provide even minimal, often unaffordable, health care for many of its citizens. We could learn from other nations, even economically poorer ones like Venezuela, how to balance cost quality and access. You shouldn’t have to leave the country to see a doctor.