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My Experience with Healthcare Costs Outside the US

Obviously I can’t speak for healthcare costs in every country outside the U.S., but I would like to share my recent experience with the healthcare systems, and the cost for that experience. If you have ever had anything similar occur in the U.S. I’m sure you’ll be shocked.

I haven’t been gone from the U.S. that long and I still remember how much healthcare cost while I was there. Ever rising insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles, long waits at doctor offices and emergency rooms and lord help you if you went to the emergency room and weren’t actually admitted.

I remember paying nearly $140 a month for family coverage through my employer. That was a group rate and it was subsidized by the employer! Plus, it was fraught with co-pays and exceptions. Every visit to the pediatrician cost a minimum of $10, despite the insurance coverage. Every trip to the dentist was sure to cost $80 at a minimum, despite the insurance coverage.

So, you can be sure I was ready for a financial shock when last night my daughter fell and split her chin open.

Off we rushed to the emergency room at 10:00pm on a Sunday night. I am sure if this had happened in the U.S. we would have been looking at a minimum 3 hour wait, so I am glad we aren’t in the U.S.

When we arrived at the hospital (one of the best private hospitals in Bangkok), I dropped my wife and daughter at the entrance and went to park the car. Five minutes later I was back at the emergency room to find my daughter already had a bandage across her chin, my wife was completing the single form necessary, and they were surrounded by 5 nurses chatting to them both and reassuring my daughter. I was told that Alivia would need stitches and that we were waiting for the doctor.

I’m sure you know that it’s difficult enough to get the attention of 1 nurse in a U.S. emergency room, let alone 5. And a 5 minute wait? Ha! It will take you 4 times that long simply to fill out the paperwork for admissions. This is despite the fact that I know nurses in the U.S. make roughly 8 to 10 times what the nurses here in Bangkok make.

Since they said we were waiting for the doctor I was prepared for a long night. When you are told that in the U.S. you might as well take a nap. Imagine my surprise and delight when the doctor showed up precisely 3 minutes later, ready to do the stitches. It seems she had already examined the wound while I was parking the car earlier.

I won’t say it was easy. You can imagine how a 30 month old child will scream when getting stitches. And of course it took longer because of that. And after the stitches were done (very adeptly and professionally I might add) off we went to wait at the cashier and for the pharmacy to dispense the Tylenol suspension, antibiotics, and supplies to clean the wound over the coming week. Yes, they do provide all those things, though you could decline and get them at one half to one third the price at a pharmacy outside the hospital.

So, after a short (maybe 10 minute) wait we were called up to collect the prescriptions and to pay the bill. I know you are holding your breath. I certainly was. How much for an emergency room visit, 7 stitches, and a host of prescriptions?

5815 Thai baht. That works out to be roughly $200 at a current exchange rate that favors the extremely strong baht.
How much would this have cost in the U.S.? In addition to the extra time and aggravation that is? According to this article at Answers.com 5 stitches recently administered were $1,334.00! The cost of the lidocaine in that case was more than our entire bill. In a separate incident, the writer paid $1,615.00 for three stitches at a hospital in Michigan. And this post on Yahoo! Answers quotes $1,950 from 4 years ago. These figures are all in line with what I found on other sites as well. Roughly $1,300 to $2,000 for 7 stitches in the chin (or scalp). And you can bet that even with insurance you’re going to be paying for part of those charges (or all if you have a high deductible plan).

Keep in mind, our visit was to a top international hospital in Bangkok. What would similar treatment cost at a top hospital in any major U.S. city? 10 times as much? 15 times? More?

When did health care get so out of control and more importantly why was it allowed to happen? I recall hearing and reading reports about the spiraling costs of healthcare in the U.S. when I was still in college and that was more than 25 years ago. And instead of costs being contained, things have only gotten worse.

I should also mention that we could have taken her to a Thai government hospital for the treatment and that would have cost 30 Thai baht or $1. Thailand provides the same 30 baht rate to any of its citizens for any disease. And no, their taxes are actually lower than the taxes in the U.S.

I am not going to go into a rant about the insurers, universities, government and big pharma. That would expand this post to 10,000 words or more. I will leave it up to you my loyal readers to discuss this below. Also, feel free to share on Facebook and/or Twitter so your friends and readers can also discuss this travesty being put upon the American public.

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