Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Something I rarely talk about: The medical costs of living abroad.

I had a friend in the United States commit suicide due to the cost of his medical bills following a motorcycle accident. I have a friend who is currently saving up money to "treat herself" to a cavity filling hopefully by this Christmas.

My friend had an abortion while living abroad and she paid between 30-40 dollars for it, didn't have to drive to another state where it was legal, and didn't get heckled or shamed for her choice in the matter.
I received a mysterious trauma to my 4th rib and it cost me 25 dollars for x-rays and anti-inflammatory medicine.
An x-ray in Mongolia literally costs $10, and you can pay 2 additional dollars to put it on a C.D.
When I had an irregular heartbeat due to heat exhaustion (which was my own fault), I got an EKG test for under 30 dollars!
*These were all "at price" costs- no deductibles had to be met, and there were no co-pays.

A week or so after heat exhaustion, at a weight less than what I was at the beginning of high school.
Ironically, I've been medically spoiled while living in a 2nd and 3rd world country, but America isn't making any sense for being the "best country in the world" especially in regards to healthcare. I'm not saying that I have a wonderful answer to this health care issue, but I AM saying that we need to take care of each other and an essential part of being HUMAN is making sure that we are all getting good and quality care. Taking care of each other is what we should pride ourselves on, not by how much monetary distance we have from the poor or from being poor.

For comparison:

When I was notified by the U.S. Department of State that I was to go to Mongolia, it was contingent on passing a health exam and getting certain vaccinations. I initially panicked because I was living in China at the time, but I slowly found a hospital, got a physical, and got tested for TB (Tuberculosis). Luckily, I had the vaccines already thanks to Peace Corps medical requirements (that they paid for)

Total cost: Free physical and a $2.66 TB test.
Cost in the States: Over or near $700 (confirmed by other Fulbrighters)

When I had appendicitis in Mongolia, I went to a Korean hospital and got laparoscopic surgery, 4 nights of hospital stay along with painkillers and antibiotics, and very questionable "food." I know I joke about how bad it was, but I would rather go through that again than pay the bill in the States for the same surgery.
Total cost: $1,500. 
Cost in the United States: Over $10,000

Removing the staples my final day at the hospital.

When I broke my foot, I went to a Mongolian E.R., got an x-ray, a cast, painkillers and calcium tablets for a month. 
Total Cost: $120. 
Cost in the States: I don't even want to think about that E.R. bill.

People sometimes ask me how I like living in the States, and most of the time my response is that "life is pretty easy." It's easy in the sense that I can talk to my landlord, figure out where I'm going when I'm driving, talk to people without too many communication errors, and I can read the labels on food and know if it's sugar or salt, which was definitely a funny and sometimes disgusting problem abroad.

But life isn't easy in regards to health care. I hate when I get sick in America because it automatically costs me so much money I simply don't have to spend on my health. I have to go to the doctor, to get a prescription to then go pay a co-pay for it in addition to the over the counter medicine I have to buy as easily adds up, not including the monthly cost for insurance, which I can't even think about.

***For reference, I make only $2,000 LESS than what I made in Mongolia, just in case you thought I was making the big bucks either here in my grad program, or through the U.S. Department of State. For additional reference, I'm not a leech, or a moocher- I paid taxes in BOTH China and America when I lived abroad and I was happy to do so, despite the fact it was a surprise lump sum payment I made to China at the end of my teaching contract.

I know not all countries are like this, but please tell me why I can pick up painkillers, condoms, theraflu, beta blockers, and/or prescription strength migraine medicine at a drugstore for either cents on the dollar or for no more than 3 bucks, whereas in America all of these things are 3x that amount. Some of them I need to see a doctor (at an additional cost) in order to get a prescription for it.

Plan B (which is NOT an abortion pill), costs $50 dollars in the States but it costs $15 dollars abroad. No matter what an individual needs help with, they should NEVER be judged or rejected by a pharmacist or pay so much for something that is so important. I am reading more and more articles about how women are being rejected for birth control, or how a pharmacist will refuse to sell them Plan B and I hadn't thought/seen/heard about it once in the 2 years I was living abroad.

Since it's nearly Thanksgiving and I've been venting about this cost and this problem, I should end on a thankful note. Even though I literally cry over the "what if" scenarios that run through my head in regards to my health, I'm thankful that I'm 24 and that my parents are so generous and amazing to let me stay on their insurance until I'm 26. I'm also so thankful that I lived in China when I had to get medical clearance for Fulbright and that my appendix decided to eject when I had complete health coverage through the U.S. Department of State.

Here's to your health. Cheers.

1 comment:

  1. I find it ironic that the US Medical system has so brainwashed the public about the "evils of socialized medicine" here in Canada. Yes, if we need elective surgery ,sometimes we wait in pain for a new hip on knee, a year or two, but we can see a doctor for free, if you are a low income person or senior you pay only 20% of the drug cost. In 1995 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother and 2 of her sisters ( girls out of 4 ) had breast cancer so I was screened every year, free of charge, they caught it early, but I still opted for a radical mastechtomy with an immediate reconstruction. I had seen my mother live with a scar that reminded her every day that she had breast cancer, she wouldn't wear a sleeveless dress or a bathing suit. I had to wait an extra month, but I got my surgery, and my reconstruction. No cost. When the biopsies came back it turned out I had 4 positive lymph nodes, and needed chemo therapy, which I received right away, again at no charge. I am alive and healthy 18 years later. My mom had cancer at 47 and lived to almost 84. My daughters father in law had a heart attack, he died and had to be resuccitated 3 times, but with the incredible work of the ER, ambulance crew, doctors, nurses, and all the research behind their work, he pulled through and is doing well with a pacemaker implanted. I shudder to think what that would have cost him in the US, here he walked out of the hospital debt free and continues to see a physical therapist and other heart support people all free of charge. As a senior with a pretty healthy pension the medical premium he and his wife pay monthly is $87.00.
    There are problems here, overcrowded ERs. beds in corridors, nurse shortages, but 99% of the time emergencies are treated quickly and successfully, and on one goes without care because we have socialized medicine. So when the Tea Party GOP tells you that Obmacare is the end of civilization, don't believe them, it has problems but sure beats having to choose between keeping your child alive or keeping your house.