Three University of Pittsburgh at Bradford students accepted into the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship for Women in Global Leadership program for the 2019 co-hort shared their newfound knowledge of healthcare in other countries during a presentation and question/answer session Wednesday evening at the Bromeley Family Theater.
The scholarship is offered by the Heinz Endowments, created by Vira I. Heinz to provide female students with opportunities for an international experience. In addition to receiving a scholarship that nearly covered their international experience, Renee Taylor, Hailee Weaver and Nicolette Simon also attended two leadership retreats in Pittsburgh, as well as made lifelong connections with other women from universities throughout Pennsylvania.
During a Powerpoint presentation entitled “A Hospital Trip Around the World,” Simon discussed healthcare in Austria. She explained how Austria is a nationalistic society, meaning you cannot have dual citizenship. She attributes this sense of solidarity as a reason why universal healthcare has been successful there.
“A big part of how their healthcare system and social structure works is having that one thing that ties them together,” said Simon.
Universal healthcare in Austria is currently publicly funded — paid for by taxes. Weaver explained citizens don’t seem to mind paying higher taxes to make sure everyone has sufficient access to healthcare.
“It doesn’t really bother them because it’s always been like that,” explained Weaver.
Insurance and healthcare are automatic guarantees with employment in Austria and people may also opt for supplementary private health insurance. Those unemployed or seeking asylum have to pay out-of-pocket expenses, though there are programs funded by donations available to help those without coverage, such as the Austrian Red Cross.
Simon then discussed Slovenian healthcare, which also has a nationalized public health care system funded through taxes. Public insurance covers physician visits, ER visits, prescriptions, prenatal and childbirth. Dental and specialists are out-of-pocket expenses, though rates are affordable. Private insurance can also be purchased to supplement, with emergency services, primary care and emergency dental care available to asylum seekers.
Simon said Slovenia is currently experiencing a shortage of doctors and nurses and it often takes awhile to get in to see a specialist.
“We went to an oncology unit and the lead doctor there, she had been working overtime for a couple of years while they were getting someone to help with the oncology department,” said Simon.
Next Taylor discussed her experience with poverty and the AIDS epidemic in Cape Town, South Africa.
“It’s considered the rainbow nation because it has its doors open to everyone, which is why they have such significant poverty. Over 55% of the population are over the poverty line,” explained Taylor. “I took a car from the airport and saw a township that was basically like a shed in your backyard — and they were side by side — it was eye opening.”
Serving over 80% of the population, public healthcare is provided by the department of health for the poorer communities and working class. Those receiving public healthcare have less access to treatment and procedures. Private healthcare is also available, which provides better treatment, though it’s very expensive with only 16% of the population utilizing it.
In regards to the AIDS epidemic, Taylor said over 7 million people in South Africa currently have AIDS, though in 2010 only 55% of the population had access to antiretrovirals.
“We don’t see many people progressing to AIDS in the U.S. anymore because of medications, though in South Africa we see people dying from AIDS,” explained Taylor.
After the presentation, a discussion took place about the difficulties the United States would face switching to a universal healthcare system. A common consensus among audience members was the idea that the United States may have difficulties because it’s more of an individualistic society, as opposed to Austria and Slovenia, who hold more societal values focused on community and homogeneity. Another concern mentioned was the possibility that access to doctors may become limited, as in the case of Slovenia.
All in all, the students were grateful for the opportunity to learn abroad and network with other female students.
Taylor said she appreciated the “networking and ability to meet other female leaders and maintain lifetime connections,” while Weaver enjoyed bringing back healthcare information from other countries.
“It made me proud of my own country, though also made me realize how much work we have to do, not just with healthcare, but with our culture as well,” Simon said in conclusion.