Today marks the debut of Jonna Wibelius as our international voice.  Jonna is a native of Sweden and currently lives in China (you can read all about it in her blog, SHEinChina).  Jonna’s monthly column will address a current issue from the point of view of a European.

“Help Obama!” says a red banner on the right side of a Swedish online newspaper. By clicking on the link you eventually end up on Avaaz.org, “a small team of global campaigners working in many countries,” or, in other words, an organization that is trying to make some difference, simply by the support of the public.

Avaaz.org wants Europeans to share their stories about the health care system in their countries. They want to defend national healthcare, as a respond to the “disinformation about international health systems from health reform opponents in the US health debate.” They ask citizens to contribute their personal stories and sign petitions. All in order to “show” US citizens that a health care reform isn’t in fact simply “risky and costly” but rather, essential and very right for the time being.

What Avaaz.org is doing is just the tip of an iceberg. For weeks, months, well, years, European papers have printed libraries of articles highlighting the deficient health care system in the US. The reasons for change are substantial, at least if we are to believe the facts presented to us in the newspapers:

The cost for health care in the US is twice as big compared to the costs in countries on the same level. Still, the general level of health is much worse. A large number of Americans, some 46 million, don’t have any health insurance.

Other reasons that the papers are pointing out are lack of incitement to seek health care, bureaucracy and expensive subpoenas. There also seem to be a lucrative business in the US to offer health care to those who are not in need of it. The demand for “flawless health” has never been bigger. And many people do an extra health check, just to “make sure.”

How the US Government should reform the system should be discussed in detail, and it already has been for many years. The Michael Moore movie “Sicko” made headlines around the world some years ago, but still failed to make something happen. During the presidential election in 2008, health care was on the agenda for many of the candidates. And now, when President Obama is finally trying to go on with his plans and actually do something, he bumps into resistance from every corner. Meanwhile, the health care system continues to cost the US Government millions. It has been estimated that between one fifth and one sixth of the US’s BNP goes to health care.

The criticism Obama’s health care reform has been given has been harshly criticized in Scandinavian media as it is not considered as constructive. Activists have been demonstrating, some have been armed, and Obama has been accused to turning America into a bad version of the Soviet Union, or even Nazi-Germany. Swedish media writes: “In fact, he’s just trying to turn the US into Sweden.”

The protests are so exaggerated that it is hard not to feel for Obama. After all, he’s only doing what needs to be done. In 1994, Hillary Clinton hit her head on the wall as she failed to engage her husband Bill Clinton in the mission to reform America’s health care system. Afterwards, a lot of American politicians avoided the subject.

In the current situation, it is the financing of the health care reform that seems to be the biggest issue. Suggested higher taxes worry a lot of US citizens.

As an outside observer that comes from a country with a well-developed health care system with social security and health care for all Swedish citizens, it is hard to imagine being in a situation as many Americans. Not having any health insurance sounds completely foreign to any Swede. We pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but we are also given free health care, free dental care (until we turn 20), free education and unemployment benefits. The security net is so thick that it’s almost hard to tumble and fall. Not to say that it is perfect, as the Swedish health care system obviously battles their own problems (long waiting lines at the hospitals are one), but at least we don’t have millions of people that are outside the system. Still, it is obviously not fair to compare a small country like Sweden to a big country like the US.

I guess my point is that I hope the US will get their much needed health care reform. There’s been a scream for a change for so long now. When so close, I hope the US doesn’t turn back, and I also hope Obama can get some more support from his own Government. After all, he’s only trying to make things better.

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