Having followed both sides of the US healthcare debate, I approached the Danish healthcare system with skepticism. I was prepared for long queues, difficult access, and a poor level of care. But, I’ve been pleasantly surprised!
I’m not sure this is the place to be if you’ve got a life threatening illness, too much potential for cost cutting and shortcut taking, but my experience with Danish healthcare so far has well exceeded expectations. It’s at the very least equal to, and in some ways, better than the private healthcare system I was used to in the US.
The CPR number is the Danish equivalent to the US Social Security number. I swear you cannot do anything without one of these. This little yellow card is my health card, library card—and ticket to a Danish bank account, the tax office, and pretty much every other practical aspect of setting up a life here. In Denmark, everyone who has residency (temporary or permanent) or citizenship has Danish healthcare.
They’ve also introduced something called, “NEM ID.” It’s basically a single sign-on to the tax and banking system. Enter your username and password, then you get a 4 digit code, which you look up on a paper card that’s sent in the mail. Each 4 digit code corresponds to a single use PIN that you can then use to login. Once you’re out of codes, they automatically send you a new card.
My bank account and the tax office (SKAT) are linked, so my income, interest earned and paid, etc. is automatically shared by my bank with the tax office, and my Danish tax return is figured automatically.
As an American, this is an uncomfortable system for me. I’m not used to Big Brother having such easy access to my health records, library records, and spending habits. Yeah, I know, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” Whatever. I’m not a fan of the Patriot Act, either. It’s not because I’ve got anything to hide, it’s because I was raised with a certain expectation of privacy and giving that up makes me a bit anxious. It’s just so… not American.
But, the Danish healthcare system is incredibly efficient. Need to book a Dr. appointment? I go to a website, sign in with my CPR number and book online. I can email my doctor and receive a reply the next day. I can call any weekday morning between 8 and 9 and speak with my doctor. I have direct contact, not just an empty promise of “the Dr. is with a patient, I’ll have her call you.”
My asthma has sent me to the hospital twice, by ambulance once, and I’m scared to death of having an asthma attack. So when I moved, I was very concerned about how I’d manage my asthma.
I chose a health clinic when I applied for my CPR number and I can see any Dr. at that clinic. Shortly after figuring out how to navigate the Danish healthcare website, I booked an appointment online, showed up for my appointment, swiped my yellow card, saw the Doc, and left without a copay. I waited maybe 10 minutes past my scheduled time, but I’ve had longer waits in the US.
Based on some things I’d read online on various blogs and expat forums, my stomach was in knots at the thought of having to go in and ask to speak English, but no need, my Dr. is lovely. She introduced herself by her first name and asked if I preferred to speak English or Danish. Her office was big, bright, and nothing like the dismal inner city Planned Parenthood sort of place I was expecting.
She asked a lot of questions about asthmatic history, and looked up both of my medicines to make sure she was prescribing the Danish equivalent. Then she asked if she could up the dose of my primary treatment because she felt I was using my rescue inhaler too often. I didn’t feel rushed like I sometimes did in the US and I didn’t at all feel marginalized for speaking English.
The weakest part of the system for me is that we don’t have prescription coverage. Here, I pay for a one month supply of asthma medicine about what I paid for a 3 month supply with prescription coverage in the US. It’s expensive. I hear the prescriptions are on a sliding scale and get less expensive the more you refill them, but I can’t comment on that yet.
Refilling. I’m almost out of medicine so I had to deal with that this week. I’d been overspringshandling. <—- Danish for “procrastinating” It’s weird not to know know the process of things. I didn’t know if there were refills left on the last prescription, if I needed another office visit, or what.
So, Sunday night, I emailed my Dr. and asked for refills. Monday morning, I got a reply from her in English :) asking me to call her because she was worried that I might be using my rescue inhaler too often. At first I was annoyed because in the US, I could call up and get refill on almost anything without a hassle. But then, I felt grateful that she had such an interest in helping me control this so I can live without worrying too much about another major attack.
I called and explained that I still have most of my rescue inhaler left, but would like an extra one to keep at work. No problem :) And she said if my asthma gets worse in the summer or starts acting up when I’m trying to run to be sure to come in for a lung capacity test and so she can adjust my treatment.
OK, so taxes are high, my health situation has been straightforward, and I won’t say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but I’m definitely sipping it. So far, compared to the US, I give Danish healthcare an “A+.” I’m impressed!
I’m the editor of the LINK (Ladies International Network København) newsletter. We’re a Copenhagen-based social network for expat women. Would you be interested in having this post appear in our next issue? I think it would be of interest to a lot of recent arrivals who may need tips on navigating/understanding the system.
You can read more about us at linkdenmark.com, or write me at email@example.com.
Hope to hear from you!
Sage, I had no idea about your asthma! very good to have care when it matters the most, eh? yes, America, land of opportunity, land of the free and home of the brave, has the most innovative healthcare with perhaps the worst administrative system in the world.. ah what patriotic freshness. I have a new policy: whatever healthcare cost we don’t agree with, we don’t pay. that simple. unorthodox and a bit anarchistic, but it provides the short term solution our politicians are unwilling to give us. good for you. enjoy one less thing to worry about as an expat! C