Dutch Healthcare, It’s For Everyone!

You don't have to wear these while registering, but it might help.

After being a victim of the American healthcare system from 2008 to 2010 when I was without coverage, I was overjoyed to move to Holland where I was required to have health insurance. It took some time because of my U.K. citizenship process — born in the United States to Jamaican parents who’d emigrated from the U.K., I applied for dual citizenship upon moving to Amsterdam — but I finally matriculated into the Dutch system in January. I wasted no time registering and setting appointments with my practitioners.

So how does mandatory healthcare work? I chose a plan from the many options and even the most basic choices blew my American mind. To be safe, I didn’t select the cheapest plan and instead opted for one which included full dental and vision. The breadth of things that are covered by the Dutch health system is impressive; laser hair removal, anyone? You pay monthly, and the government offers assistance if needed. I’m even fully covered abroad. Still, many Dutchies complain of the exorbitant healthcare prices that, in their defense, have ballooned in a short time but I still think they’re crazy.

It took months to fully grasp the Dutch rules about doctors. I’m a member of the ‘travel high and low for a highly recommended Doctor’ club. Here, you’re expected and encouraged to go to your neighborhood general practitioner. Technically, this can be waived, but doctors must be able to reach you within 20 minutes for a house call. Dr. Quinn, medicine woman, much? I’ve registered with the office three blocks away, I’ve never lived that close to anything necessary before. My doctor in N.Y. was 1.5 hours away by bus and train.

I had my intake, or annual check-up, in February and I’m pleased. My doctor speaks fluent English and is also an OBGYN. While searching, I noted that I specifically wanted an African female doctor but that was impossible to find. My GP is the only female doctor nearby in my zip code.

During my intake, my doctor pointed out several differences between the U.S. and N.L. health systems that stunned me. It’s easy to forget other countries are afflicted by different ailments at varying rates, if at all. In Holland you get your first pap smear at 30 and every five years thereafter. She mentioned, likely due to my look of dismay, that I can ask for it if I want. In the U.S., I started at 19 and then had one annually so I’ll continue that schedule since I’m not actually Dutch.

Physicals only happen upon request. This is a society that uses doctors as a final resort, relying on nature to fix what’s wrong but in Holland they don’t want to stop it before it becomes a major issue. While I appreciate that, U.S. healthcare is more preventative. Walk-ins are daily for 45 minutes starting at 7:30 a.m. After that, you set an appointment. They close midday for a few hours for house calls. I also had to register with my local pharmacy. I forgot what a real pharmacy looks like after years of Duane Reade, New York’s popular pharmacy. So far, I’ve needed antibiotics and a filling from the dentist and I didn’t pay for either. +1 Holland.

-Sherisa D is a jewelry designer, freelance writer and amateur vegetarian chef originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. now calling canal-lined Amsterdam home with her husband and crazy cat, Pixel.

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