Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hospital Bills

Ben and I  have the national health insurance here in Japan. Ben's insurance costs 75 dollars a month, and mine costs 60 dollars a month. Especially for Japan this is very cheap, and unlike in the states, health insurance here doesn't feel like a scam.

My shoulder has been hurting for a while, and it has been getting worse lately. In the states I just ignored the pain, but here in Japan we have national health insurance, which Ben and I have been using to our benefit while we can. A couple of weeks ago Ben and I went to the clinic to get our flu shots, and to have a brief examination. We weren't sure where to start medically for both of us, and we thought a physical was in order for both of us. Doctors at doctors' offices here see each patient for about 5-10 minutes, and are more like what we would call nurse practitioners. They can prescriber medicine, and give shots, but for difficult diagnoses, or examinations that require special equipment (ultrasounds, x-rays...) a trip to the hospital is necessary. Our trip to the doctor, including the examination, and flu shots cost $30 dollars a person.

Ben and I made our trips to the hospital, our local hospital is open 8:00-6:00 weekdays, 8:00-11:30  Saturday, and is closed on Sunday. I'm still not clear what to do in case of emergencies beyond those hours, though the locals tell me that I should just call 119 (the equivalent of 911 in Japan). The doctor I needed (a orthopedic specialist) only worked at our hospital on Mondays, Wednesdays  and Fridays. When we got to the hospital I checked in, they gave me a number, and directed me to the waiting area for the doctor I needed to see. Nurses asked me what the problem was, and had me fill out some charts (Ben really impressed me with his Japanese), before the doctor asked me into the office he looked at my charts, and determined he would not be able to help me without an x-ray of my shoulder, so the sent me to the queue for the x-ray. After my x-ray I saw the doctor. I really hate seeing doctors, for nearly 2 years I felt miserable, and so I would go to the doctor, they would pretty much tell me that I was either depressed, or just fat, and send me on my way, I continued to feel more and more miserable,  until I finally found out what was wrong, which incidentally was after thousands of dollars in medical bills. I really came to resent doctors, and lost all faith in the American medical system. When I saw the doctor here, he was refreshingly honest and not condescending. He complimented my very nice straight spine.  He told me that he wasn't sure. There were many possibilities, and he wanted to take it one step at a time. I told him that I had trouble sleeping because when I moved the pain would wake me up, he said he was sorry, and that it was very unfortunate. He said he thought it was muscle pain, and he would like me to try these muscle relief patches for the next month, but if I was still in pain, I should come back.

Although the doctor did end up taking 3 hours of Ben and my day, and it was very confusing, and a little stressful, I didn't walk out of the doctors office feeling like a complete waste of space. I was worried when I walked to the pay counter, a trip like that in the states would cost a fortune, and I did not want to go broke, but the grand total came out $37 dollars, including the medicated patches for the next month.

Affordable healthcare is a beautiful thing. Despite all the things I love about America, the simple fact that healthcare is not affordable does test my desire to move back. The idea that someone who is sick in the United States would not only have to deal with their medical issues, but would also likely be financially devastated  seems barbaric to me. Americans are also very unwell, and have so little access to health information, it's sad to watch a country of intelligent and ambitious people be dampened by poor health.

For now I will appreciate national health insurance, but I hope in my future America will be a nation that supports good health.

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