By Stephanie L. Wetmore
If you want a more global perspective on the Affordable Care Act, talk with Lubor Ptacek.
The 46-year-old has experienced health care systems in the United States and Canada as an adult, in Germany during and right after college, and in the Czech Republic as a child.
A key difference between the United States and those other countries, he said, is marketplace competition for doctors and dentists. That’s one reason Ptacek was happy when his technology company gave him the option of moving from Waterloo, Ontario — the Silicon Valley of Canada — to the Bay Area. “When we first came to Canada, it was somewhat difficult to find the general family doctor,” he said. “A lot of places were telling us that they were full and not taking any new patients.” In California, he has found “a very competitive market, so doctors are usually keen on getting new patients.”
In Waterloo, outside of Toronto, Ptacek grew frustrated by barriers in the Canadian nationalized health care system that prevented him from going straight to a specialist when his children needed care. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you need an orthopedist or an eye doctor. There is some advantage in that,” he said.
Ptacek, who has dual Czech and U.S. citizenship, lives on the Peninsula with his family. He receives health insurance through his company, Open Text. Navigating the various plans offered by Covered California, the new state insurance exchange, is not something he needs to worry about right now. But should his situation change, “Emotionally it feels good to know that there is such a system.”
Germany has one of the oldest health insurance systems in the world, dating back 125 years. In 2007, the government required every German to have health insurance and mandated insurers to provide it. Ptacek recognizes core elements of the German model in the Affordable Care Act. Again, though, he returns to the distinction that there are many more health care providers in the United States, increasing competition and options for patients.
“Being exposed to different cultures and economies, it certainly broadens your perspective,” he said. “A lot of people are very ill-informed about how does [health insurance] work in other countries.”