Often my friends ask me if I will ever go back to New York and I find myself answering, “Probably not”. And why is that? Because I probably couldn’t afford it, and I certainly couldn’t live as well as I do here. What am I referring to? Certainly not to the price of a restaurant meal; neighborhood restaurants are often cheaper than here where I almost never manage to spend less than €30. Not to the price of energy – electricity or gas for my car – which are must cheaper stateside as are taxis, prescription lenses and all electronic equipment and devices. True, rents in New York are very high, but if I were to sell my apartment in Trastevere I might be able to buy a small apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn.
But I still wouldn’t be able to go back, or maybe even want to. In the first place, health costs are exorbitant, whereas here I have the national health system (SSN) as well as a very good policy for Italian journalists. And, secondly, all personal services from home cleaning to masseurs cost much more in New York than they do here in Rome, where I could afford them, and thus enjoy a very pleasant life, even when I was younger and earning very little.
Obamacare, the American health system law that went into effect in 2010, should – once all the kinks are eliminated – provide all Americans with affordable private health insurance policies. (It seems absurd, but many Americans, particularly those who vote Republican and their elected representatives, continue to consider national health a socialist or communist invention, even though they exist in almost all European countries, as well as Canada and Australia.)
And hopefully this will happen since today in the United States, health costs are such that people who do not have health insurance – and we are talking about millions of people – are in big trouble, unless they are rich, or very poor or over 65 (people in the last two categories are better protected).
Recently, an 87-year old friend of mine in Maine went to an emergency room for an abrasion. She was there for 45 minutes and the bill was $1850. She didn’t have to pay because her age entitles her to Medicare. But think if she’d been under 65 and without insurance? And that was nothing whereas surgery and hospitalization costs tens of thousands of dollars.
When it comes to diagnostics and doctors bills, the situation is not much better. If I do a mammography and a breast sonogram in New York I pay four times what I pay here. An MRI costs $1200 in New York and about €50 on the Italian health service (SSN). Two years ago while in New York I wanted to have a brown spot on my face lasered. The initial visit, without the lasering, would have been $365. At the IFO hospital in Rome I paid €110 as a private patient (on the SSN, it would have cost €30, but I would have had to wait much longer) for having several spots removed.
Romans complain about paying the “ticket” (deductable) for many procedures but they have no idea how lucky they are. You can have a private policy here, too, but the SSN (whatever its shortcomings) is always there as a back-up.
And what about other personal services? In New York, a cleaning woman now costs $25 -$30 an hour as opposed to €8-10 here. An hour massage costs at least $100, a plumber at least $75 for an hour or part thereof. A haircut in a reputable salon can cost $100 or more. Who can afford those prices? I’m better off staying here.
* Giornalista e blogger