“I should just go get on a plane and fly to Mexico,” my husband mumbled as he lay curled in a fetal position on a hospital gurney last week. “It would be so much cheaper there.”
He was right – it would have been. And the care would have been at least as good as he got here in Boise, Idaho. Unfortunately, when you’re in the throes of excruciating pain from appendicitis you don’t have the luxury of climbing aboard a plane to fly to another country for medical care.
I’ve written a lot about medical care abroad. We’ve been fortunate (?) enough to experience emergency rooms in a variety of countries throughout the years. In Egypt I broke my hand, in Malaysia my son broke his arm. My husband’s heart went into arrhythmia in Ethiopia and he thought he broke his thumb in Nicaragua. I had pneumonia in Argentina; my son had it in Malaysia. I fell down stairs in Vietnam and messed up my foot. We’ve sought medical care in Israel, Mali, Yemen, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
And now we’ve sought medical help in the United States of America.
One of our major concerns when we made the decision to live in the United States six months ago was health care. Always before, both my husband and I had been teaching and had health insurance through our jobs. Now that we’re self-employed, we don’t. That’s scary.
We are still covered through our travel insurance – but that will end October 4 on our six-month anniversary of arriving in the USA. At that point, we will need to pick up another policy. We’re honestly not sure how long we’ll be able to maintain the high cost of the premiums (around $400/month just for the two adults with a very high deductible; the boys are covered through a state program). We may need to leave our country in the end.
Thursday morning John stumbled through the apartment door around 11 in the morning and collapsed into bed in pain. All day he clutched his stomach and groaned. By 9 in the evening, the pain had reached a point where he couldn’t tolerate it anymore and we headed to the ER knowing the cost of surgery in the US was outrageous. There is no question that, if he had had the luxury of time, he would have flown to another country.
Friday morning John underwent surgery to take out his appendix; Friday evening he came home. He opted for no pain pills due to the high cost and simply endured the pain instead.
On Monday, he called our insurance company – and was told he needed to get preapproval for surgery. Even emergency surgery. At this point, we aren’t sure if they will cover the cost of his treatment or not.
Tuesday the first bill arrived – $1357 for the surgeon. That doesn’t include any hospital bills at all – it’s only for the 45 minutes of the surgeon’s time in the operating room. In Argentina I stayed in the hospital for a week for $514.
There is no question in my mind that we received better medical care in other countries – yes, even third world countries like Nicaragua or Bolivia. The thirty minutes John spent waiting before even talking to a single person in the ER were excruciating – in other countries we’ve never waited thirty minutes before being seen by a doctor.
I’ve said for years that medical care in other countries is equally as good as in the US but a fraction of the cost. Now I’m rethinking that idea – I’m starting to wonder if medical care in other countries isn’t better than in the USA at a fraction of the cost.
And so I come back to the big debate I’ve been struggling with for ages – what is the price of quality of life? There are some great reasons to live in the USA:
- The educational program our sons are in here in Boise is world-class and we would never find something like this anywhere else.
- The boys are enjoying being part of a soccer team and a Boy Scout troop.
- I love having my beads and being able to teach beading classes.
- I know where the grocery store is and I know what I’ll find there.
But is it worth it? Truth be told, the reason we are here is for the school program the boys are in – if it wasn’t for that we would have hit the road a few months ago. Part of me is hoping the program doesn’t work out long term – if we were to leave the USA, we would have decent medical care again.
Which is more important? Great education for our sons? Or medical care?
And why the hell are we having to choose?
What experiences have you had with health care in the USA and abroad?
edited to add: We heard back from the insurance company that they approved his “preapproval” so they will cover their share. We still don’t know what our portion of the bill will be.