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The VA system and the myth of universal healthcare - a commentary

Last month news reports began appear regarding dozens of veterans who died while waiting for medical appointments.
Last month news reports began appear regarding dozens of veterans who died while waiting for medical appointments.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

As Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) in a letter to President Obama Tuesday called for immediate and decisive action regarding dozens of veterans who died while waiting for medical appointments in the Phoenix VA Health Care System, the recent revelations have an eerie resemblance to what happened to my dad in Sweden. Not that he was an American or a veteran, he ran his own company, helping to build the Swedish infrastructure of roads and subways, and while doing so paying somewhere around 50 - 80 percent income tax.

In January of 2010 my dad got sick. It was the winter, the local primary physician said, wait and you will get better. And dad waited, and waited, and waited. In May he finally got to see a specialist in Uppsala, a university town 1 hour drive from his home. "Stage 4 colon cancer" the specialist said, "nothing we can do".

My dad was dumbfounded. "Caroline", he said on the phone, " how is this possible, I employed people, I paid my taxes and now, the first time in my life I need the government's assistance, there is no help to get".

I jumped on a plane unable to understand why a country so proud over its health care system did not want to treat my dad. Hey, we Swedes are supposed to have the best healthcare in the world! It is universal isn't it , the idea Obama care is modeled on.

With me pushing, the doctors in Uppsala reluctantly started my dad on chemo therapy, but not before he had met with every doctor involved in his care. The reason? They wanted to see how healthy and active he was before they made the decision to treat him.

My 83 year old strong, and sharp dad passed the test and in the fall he started to receive chemo therapy. But when the results got kind of wacky, the doctors sent him to do a biopsy of the tumor, suspecting he was suffering from another kind of cancer.

Two months and two weeks later, when being admitted to the hospital for treatment , the doctors sent my dad home saying it was instead an endocrine cancer and that they needed to redo the test. I sent a furious email to the chief of the clinic. He called me back saying the delay was not his fault, and what was the hurry anyway. In June, 2011 my dad passed away.

My dad's case is, however, not an isolated incident. For in Sweden where everyone has equal access to health services under a tax payer funded system, inconsistent care and long queues are a rule. My 23-year old niece suffering from severe headaches, for example, has still not been able to see a neurologist and it has been over 3 months. And I myself at 25 was denied a back surgery with the motivation that I was not in enough pain. So it is not surprising that Swedes buying private health care insurance plans have grown 400 percent in a decade.

You can follow Caroline on Twitter or like her Facebook page.

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