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. 

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