Guest: International views on health-care reform


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“Can anyone explain this health-care bill in simple words?” I heard this question amid the sweet and bitter slogans last week, when President Obama visited the University of Iowa.

My head was also dithered with convoluted questions about the health-care debate; it’s troublesome for novice international students like me to get a clear picture of the United States’ health-care system.

After talking with foreign students at the UI and then listening to the views of my American friends on campus, I did some research and found a World Health Organization study on the health-related issues.

The organization estimated in the report for the 5.6 billion people in low- and middle-income countries, more than half of all health-care expenditure is through out-of-pocket payments. This deprives many families of needed care because they cannot afford it. Also, more than 100 million people around the world are pushed into poverty each year because of catastrophic health-care expenditures, the report said.

Though some international students welcomed the President Obama’s health-reform initiative, they were about confused how these reforms will affect international students in the United States. Like many U.S. citizens, many UI international students have no clue about what the real picture of the U.S. health-reform law is.

“I thought it’s pretty much like universal health care that essentially incorporates a public option, but President Obama himself pointed out in his speech at the Field House that the public option is not in it,” said Eri Kurniawan, a Fulbright scholar and a Ph.D. student in linguistics. “And I read from the paper that there are still a lot of Americans that would be uncovered by this bill.”

Talking about the health-care system in Indonesia, Kurniawan said medical services are quite affordable and lots of medical alternatives are available.

Contrasting the U.S. health-care system with other countries in the world, Etse Sikanku, a graduate student in journalism and mass communication from Ghana said, “I think it’s a great idea that the U.S. government is trying to provide expanded coverage to Americans.”

Ghana’s system is called the National Health Insurance Scheme, “where it’s mandatory for everyone under the law to purchase insurance,” he said.

Proud of the country’s health system, Sikanku said, “It’s worked very well so far, because it helps to provide comprehensive and affordable access to health services by Ghanaians.

“Before these schemes were implemented, many Ghanaians could not afford health care, and the services provided were usually poor.”

And he said that the United States should examine other countries’ health-care systems as well.

“Of course, this is a domestic-policy measure, so I didn’t really expect any international undertones. Still, we know there are countries with similar public health packages, and it won’t be too bad for the U.S. to learn from these best practices,” Sikanku said.

Lamia Zia, a freelance journalist, worked in print and broadcast journalism in Pakistan and now writes a regular column for The Daily Iowan.

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