Living Without Health Insurance! Oh my!
I am one of many uninsured Americans. It’s a strange and unusual predicament for me. I have had the same health care insurer throughout my entire working life, thirty years to be exact. Now like so many others I wonder what will happen if I have a major health crisis.
At the tender age of 56 I left my career behind. In an effort to maximize my retirement pay, I defered all benefits until I turn 62. Deferment means that everything is on hold. Money, healthcare and life insurance are on hold until I turn 62. Knowing I would had five years without income I saved diligently. Unfortunately the quote of $750.00 a month for healthcare when I arrived back in the US was well above the amount for which I budgeted. So here I sit without healthcare coverage. Unlike so many Americans I am fortunate enough to have options.
So how do I take care of my health care needs you ask. I have insurance for travelers but it does not cover me in all situations. If I have a heart attack or break a leg I am one hundred percent covered as long as I am 100 miles from home; worldwide coverage. It costs $700.00 for the year. But if I come up with the big c, cancer, or any other major illness I am on my own. Since leaving my job I have paid out of pocket for my annual checkups. Going to the doctor just because I sneeze is no longer an option.
Medical Care on the Road
I take care of my medical needs as I travel and it has proven to be the most cost effective method. My travel insurance is World Nomads (WN). Whenever I need a doctor or my prescriptions refilled I call WN and within thirty minutes to an hour I either have an appointment or the name and phone number of a local physician who speaks English. I have had doctor’s appointments and prescriptions filled in Mexico, Germany and South Africa. The doctors were fabulous and their service efficient and affordable. In spite of Americans’ tendency to lean deep into ethnocentrism there are places in the world where healthcare is not only safe, clean, and delivered by well trained expert doctors, the services are more affordable and the same or better than healthcare in the U.S.
My recent Health Scare and the Doctors in Thailand
My recent health scare started with a general discomfort in my gut that became increasingly more uncomfortable. My mother passed away due to cancer. So if I sneeze I start thinking oh no, I think I am catching a bit of cancer. Or if I stump my toe, oh my God I’m going to have toe cancer. Let’s not mention minor bouts of hypochondria. So, concerned about the stomach cancer that was growing inside my gut (yes I know irrational and drama queen; we all have an irrational side so let me have my moment please) I started thinking that I should fly home and get this checked. Realizing the potential cost, I thought of a recommendation from Lori and Randy, a nomadic couple I keep in contact with, both teachers. I decided instead of flying home and paying an enormous amount of money for a small check up, since I was closer to Thailand I chose Thailand, and boy am I glad I did.
Concierge Healthcare at Its Best
I arrived in Thailand on Monday, made a phone call and arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning for my full check up. Never have I had such a well organized carefully planned hospital visit. They don’t call it concierge healthcare but it is. I reported at 9:15. By 9:20, registered and at my first appointment of the day I was impressed. Gently guided and delivered to my first appointment by a special attendant I assumed we would part once I was in place. For each new doctor or procedure an attendant was waiting for me when I finished and I was delivered to the next stop. Sometimes it was the same attendant and other times a new smiling attendant waiting to greet me with Sawasdi (hello in Thai), clasped hands and a slight bow. On to the next. This went on for seven and a half hours with a half an hour break for lunch at which time I was reminded of the food coupon given to me that morning and guided to the mini food court where I was given a sandwich and a juice. Kindly reminded to stay away from coffee because I still had the EKG and stress test coming up after lunch, I made my choices with thought. I rarely had to wait. I would say the most I waited throughout the day was maybe two or three minutes at best. This was the best service and the best treatment I have ever experienced. Upon completion of the tests I was then delivered to individual consultations with the Gynecologist, the Internist, General Physician and the Nutritionist for an explanation of my results and recommendations where required. The Audiologist and Ophthalmologist gave results on the spot after my examinations.The pap smear takes two weeks so I have to wait on that.
Well I don’t have stomach cancer, not even toe cancer. It turns out I am fat (none of you should be shocked at that revelation)….in other words my ass is fat and I need to eat better and exercise. I am the picture of health except for a few very minor issues associated with my weight and I am working on it now as I eat this freaking spinach salad. Freaking spinach!
Money, money, money………imagine the O’Jays singing in the background
So now we get to the really juicy part of this post. Here you will learn exactly what I was tested for and how much it cost. Realize that this was a state of the art facility only three years old. I went for the Ultimate Checkup for women over 40.
ULTIMATE CHECKUP for over 40
Complete Blood Count
Blood Sugar Profile
Stool Examination and Occult Blood
EST Exercise Stress Test
ABI Ankle Brachial index
Ultrasound Whole Abdomen
Digital mammogram and ultrasound breasts
Thin Prep Pap Test/HPV high risk mRNA test (APTIMA HPV)
Bone mineral density (Lumbar Spine & Hip)
Body Mass Index
Medical Report Book
I feel like I should insert an audio of a drum roll here. The total cost was……………wait for it…………….. $559.00 U.S. Can you imagine what this would cost in the United States? I make a point to stay away from politics on this blog but I can’t help but acknowledge that health care in America is off the charts. It’s not just that we need healthcare insurance, we need total reform for unregulated increasing healthcare costs. We wouldn’t be in the mess we are in if healthcare was affordable. Since I have been uninsured I go home every summer and I pay my Rheumatologist $110.00 for a five minute conversation (usually about my travels) and a written prescription. That is highway robbery. But I have to see him because I need the prescription for my arthritis. In Germany I went to the Rheumatologist because I ran out of medication, I gave the doctor my empty bottle of medication and my most recent blood tests. When it was all said and done I had an appointment that lasted 10 minutes. When I asked how much it would cost I steadied myself for the impending blow, in euros! The doctor shrugged his shoulders and said,”I only saw you for ten minutes it’s 10.00 euro (about $11.50). It was then that I realized I can take care of healthcare on the road. The same thing happened in South Africa recently and I can’t remember the rand price but I had a doctor’s appointment for about $15.00 U.S. In Mexico I received a complete blood count test and the price was under $100.00, in America that same blood test could run upwards to $1,500.00 depending on the hospital or state you are in.
I googled medical costs for uninsured patients in America that were in line with the services received in Thailand. Without going into the details of my search, the bottom line is what I received in Thailand would cost between $5000.00 to $10,000.00. Shame, shame, shame on the American healthcare system.
There are some public hospitals and clinics I would not go to in certain parts of the world because their caseload is high they are overworked and some of the service is questionable, just like in the states. Some of the public hospitals aren’t the best but I hear they have some pretty good ones. The quality of the services I received in Thailand was above and beyond anything I have ever received at any time in my life in the U.S. and it only cost $559.00 When I explained to a friend in South Africa about health care costs in America she was in shock. Health care in South Africa is very affordable for private hospitals and doctors.
It is understandable that healthcare is a business but there has to be limits because the costs are out of control and the disparities in costs from hospital to hospital and state to state are without explanation. Medical costs don’t appear to be transparent. Where is the world can you go for services or goods without getting prices ahead of time? Do you go shopping for clothes or shoes do you wait to find out the price of your items when you get to the cash register? A store like that would go out of business in a heartbeat. But hospitals get away with this all the time. I challenge you to call any hospital in America and try to request the cost of services. Rarely will you be able to get a quote. I understand the individual nature of patient care, but there has to be a baseline cost with necessary increases that account for the differences in service delivery. There needs to be more transparency in patient billing. The hospital in Thailand has been filling the ever increasing requests for internationally accredited healthcare as people are looking outside of the U.S. and other countries for good affordable health care.
As long as health care insurance hovers at $750.00 a month I will continue to get my healthcare services overseas and keep my fingers crossed. It’s a new medical service model that I call the “Crossed Fingers/Prayer Pose Insurance Policy”. Hahaha. Y’all pray for me!