Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Dear readers from wherever you are (there are lots of you in the USA, but also Canada, UK, Germany, Serbia, the Netherlands, Italy, China, Israel and Ukraine)
in a blink of an eye it is almost Christmas and in case I won't be able to write a new post, I want to make sure my best wishes of happy holidays reach each and every one of you!
Have a wonderful time with family and friends!

Will be back soon,

Monday, December 16, 2013

The business of staying healthy in the USA

You will never know how important health care is, till you badly need medical attention. The moment you have to deal with your health insurance as a student or newly hired worker in the USA, you realize that this is a world of its own. Most of the times health plans are already offered to you by universities and companies and this can spare you an endless search in comparing insurances' costs. The health plans provided by universities are pretty comprehensive. If you have to look for one yourself, the principle is the same as shopping for the most convenient phone plans. But you'll see the discrepancy: your health cannot be compared to a cell phone! That is an aspect that can give you the chills. The concept for Europeans is quite new, as we have a social healthcare that covers everything and we don't really think about it. We take it for granted. In America it is not so.
First thing, read carefully the insurance policy, what is included, what is not, co-payments, dental and vision. These are all aspects that will make you raise both eyebrows, but you must think in these terms: your health is an investment you want to protect. 
If you ever need medical care, be ready and patient, not only will you have to put up with your physical ailment, but also you will have to fill out an incredible long list of questions and honestly when you are sick, it is really difficult to manage. Usually in Europe patients talk to doctors, probably in the USA doctors cannot be bothered by patients' complaints and they'd rather read. Though, I must say I had a very nice doctor while at university who was very easy to talk to. The system of filling out papers is quite obsolete and clunky. The problem is that there is no central system that allows to share your medical information among hospitals, health centers, different M.D.s; in this way, you fill the form in only once without writing your medical history over and over again. So, whenever and wherever you need it, your information pops up on the screen of every doctor's office. Wouldn't that be practical and efficient? In Europe we have a card with a microchip that contains all these data and every time I go for any visit they already know who I am, without writing my name two hundred times.
One other thing: keep a close eye on every single item that is listed in the medical bills you receive. There are mistakes (a needle, a bandage, a plaster, etc. ) and most of the times it is to their advantage, go figure! It goes without saying that, when you need medical treatment because you are really ill, you don't really feel like putting up with all this accounting that demands your fullest and undivided attention. Most health insurances offer routine check ups and highly recommended screenings. However, when you inquire a bit more, it turns out that these check ups are not free at all, they can cost you quite a lump of money (the screening I was eligible for was around $400). Another aspect regards medications. Now, here I really have troubles understanding how it works.
A medication I got for free in Europe (one blister for 50 days), in the USA I had to pay (actually it was co-pay), around eight dollars for 30 days. Can you imagine what it would cost without insurance?! Anyhow, the issue is that this medication in Europe, if I were to pay it in full, would be 2.89 euros. The only difference between the two medications is the price, being the components identical. How is it possible that in the USA I spend a lot more despite having health insurance (which incidentally happened to be one of the most expensive/comprehensive ones) and in Europe for EXACTLY the same stuff I pay much less even without insurance?? Does it just come down to American pharmaceutical companies' greediness, where their profit margin is huge, taking from both insurance and insured? It would be cheaper to import some medications from Europe.
For serious medical conditions and or procedures, you must be aware of what is awaiting you. Take giving birth for instance, it is also quite a lucrative business. Despite being a natural event-and wishing all the best to mother and child, like a short and painless delivery!- sometimes there are complications, unfortunately. I want to report some data I have found on this website, where you can find more if interested:
Childbirth centers, which provide a wide range of services for home births, water births and similar average the lowest cost, at $2.227. However, always do your research first: see what they offer and ask for the total costs. Keep in mind that if something goes wrong, either to mother or child, they still need to be taken to hospital. Birth centers in the North East charge around $4.800. But if we stick to hospitals, the prices range from well above $10.000 up to $ 24.000. According to these data, a vaginal birth in hospital with no complications is on average $ 10.657, but if you aren't this lucky and need a cesarean with complications you'll end up paying almost $24.000. These costs DO NOT include additional anesthesia for either births (vaginal and cesarean), newborn care and maternity services. Even the duchess of Cambridge didn't cost so much to British citizens when she gave birth to their royal heir. In fact, it seems the costs were about $15.000, and she got a suite all for herself!
Also tourists must be warned that before leaving they must be covered for the time of their stay. Even minor health issues can ruin your holiday when the bill is presented to you, and I am not talking about open-heart surgery. Plaster casts, insulin drips, calling an ambulance, each can run up to $2.000 and more. Spend some money on a good insurance: if you don't need it, you might think it's money you wasted, but if you ever end up needing it, you'll be so thankful you spent it.
Even though you are young and fit, never underestimate health care because in case you'll ever need it, you might end up paying bills for the rest of your life. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

I refused an H4 visa because I chose freedom

For two years I had been living a relatively quiet life of an immigrant student's wife. I tried to keep busy from the very first moment we moved into our new life abroad. I had left my job back at home and finding myself alone was a challenge. Now I could pursue other things I hadn't had the time to do before, but at the same time I was intimidated because I had a lot of time to manage on my own. I tried to look on the bright side. Being on a J2 visa, I immediately applied for an employment authorization card. Eventually, I found a part time job I loved. I considered myself extremely lucky because I had found an occupation that kept me busy and allowed me to stay among people. Life was looking good and my sanity had been preserved for a while.
Things started to shake again when my husband was offered the H1B visa, which meant for me to pass on an H4. This visa, as most immigrants' spouses know too well, implies many limitations. I was to give up my financial independence and my professional career. My higher education degrees were nothing more than trophies used as wallpaper. I was forced to give up everything I believed in and worked for. The prospect was very ominous.
In the meantime we also had moved to another place, closer to my husband's workplace. The friends I had met in the previous two years were also moving to other destinations. I began to feel totally deserted, lost and useless. The delicate new balance I had created abroad was starting to crumble. The situation deteriorated pretty quickly; I got sick and spent time in and out of doctors' offices to find out the cause of a mysterious allergy that was tormenting me. I was losing my strength in body and spirit and I realized I had to do something before it was too late.
Slowly and painfully I started to realize that I couldn't beat this system that denied me to be who I was and who I aspired to be. With an H4 visa, I was to sign away my freedom and I couldn't force myself into something I also believe to be fundamentally unconstitutional. In fact, I felt this visa status was violating and contradicting many primary constitutional rights. An oxymoron: a legal paper that limits or denies your rights! What happened to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin's Declaration of Independence? Did they really mean that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness, or some men are more equal than others (to paraphrase George Orwell)?
I felt very confused; in the land of the free I had no freedom. Within legality, since I had come to the country following all the red tape to the dot, I was limited in many ways that forbade me from living my normal life. This is a country where slavery has been abolished, women have the same rights as men, a nation populated by immigrants (not to be sarcastic here, but how many can really trace their roots back to Pocahontas or Sacajawea??), and yet, LEGAL immigrants' wives are at the mercy of their husbands, depending on them for everything. Are you kidding me?!? There is something against nature in this perverse system. Many immigrants' wives can't cope with this situation, they feel unwelcome, unwanted and invisible; hence, in the best scenario they decide to leave: empty handed, abandoned and broken in their spirit and in their lives. 
I was wasting my days, my life, away in a nasty place that I was loathing by the minute. The system wanted to reduce me to a role totally unsuited and anachronistic for today's women. After long and serious considerations, I came to the only possible conclusion: I was to leave if I wanted to recover and regain health and happiness. It was the hardest decision ever. I was leaving a country that despite everything I still loved for many reasons, but obviously for some others I started to hate. 
This adventure was also taking a huge toll on my marriage. However, despite the odds, I have been very lucky. Unlike many husbands who decided to follow their careers, my husband followed me.