I’ve heard ad nauseam how the US health care system can be financially crippling, should you have the misfortune to get sick or injured. Before I started traveling full-time, I frequently hopped across the border to the US to skydive, and I used to say “if I get injured, just put me on a raft and push me towards Canada.” I figured that was ultimately safer than landing in a US hospital.
My suspicions were confirmed a few years later in Hawaii my ex made a trip to the emergency room, and walked out 45 minutes later with a $900 bill for an x-ray and some Tylenol.
So when I fell sick in Florida and couldn’t kick it with herbal and homeopathic remedies, it was with incredible reluctance that I made an appointment to see a local doctor.
How I Use My Travel/Medical Insurance
I have expat insurance, so no medical setback should be financially life-altering. But I also have enough experience filing claims on my ex’s behalf, that it’s not a process I enjoy nor care to repeat.
So in designing my expat insurance plan, I kept my premiums low by setting a very high deductible. (And if you don’t know what all that means, then check out my very informative article about expat insurance). So the only time I ever plan to make a medical claim on my insurance is if I really….really really really need to. (And I hope I never will).
By structuring my medical insurance this way, it means that if I have minor medical problems that need attention, I “self-insure” by paying cash.
Going to a US Doctor
“I have no insurance,” I proclaimed as soon as the receptionist answered the phone at the doctor’s office. “How much will I pay to see a doctor?”
I was given a vague answer of $75-$100 to see a P.A., and was told I could come in any time that day.
Expecting to wait for hours, I was shocked when I waltzed in and the doctor sat and chatted cordially with my friend and I while I filled in the standard paperwork. Before I knew it I was whisked into the examination room.
Getting an Education
My doctor was quite chatty, and provided me with all sorts of medical pearls of wisdom about how to identify a bacterial infection (which is what I had), bronchitis (which it wasn’t), and even voluntarily diagnosed a few other issues I had but thought were genetic and incurable (you mean that involuntary twitch is stress-related? Who knew). He was even open-minded to herbal and homeopathic remedies.
It was the most educational session I’ve ever had with a medical professional.
Are you Billing by the Minute?
Unfortunately throughout my little education-session, a little voice in the back of my head was suspiciously asking if this was a plot to escalate my cost with a billing-for-time model. I hadn’t confirmed my cost prior to waltzing into the examination room, and after 30 minutes passed I became nervous.
I relaxed a little when the doctor prescribed me with free – yes, free – antibiotics. (This is an incentive on the part of the Publix grocery store chain to compete with other major pharmacies and get people into the store to shop).
So I figured even if I was in for a riotous bill, I was also saving a wad of cash on my prescription.
Reasonable Doctor’s Bill
My day was made (despite being sick) when I was presented with a mere $75 bill for this enlightening session. They reasoned it out by saying it was approximately the amount they’d receive from an insurance company if I had filed through one (they’d have charged more if I was covered under insurance, which begs a series of questions about the insurance industry in general, but is also a common practice worldwide). They even wrote out a receipt for me to submit to my insurance company to help satisfy my deductible if I should have further medical expenses later in the year.
Doctor’s Fee: $75
This is probably the first time I’ve ever walked out of a doctor’s office in a great mood.
The Cost to See Doctors in Other Countries
I’ve luckily not had to see many doctors in other countries, but I’ve had a few stabs at it, and each time I “self-insured” by paying with cash.
– worldwide costs have been converted to US dollars for ease of comparison –
37 spider bites sent me running for a doctor after a week of increasing discomfort. (At least I’d determined the offending spider wasn’t venomous since I’d have been dead by that stage).
Doctor’s Fee: $89
Being so impressed with the low prescription cost (in Canada – despite also being a country with socialized health care – prescriptions cost considerably more, as you’ll see below), I also got a few refills on my prescription for birth control.
The Pill (1 year): $31
I needed a refill of birth control, and in light of Australia’s inexpensive prescriptions, I figured New Zealand would be similar.
It’s not. The cost to see a doctor was lower, but prescriptions were higher.
Doctor’s Fee: $31
The Pill (6 months): $75
An episode of bronchitis took me down. Because of my long absence from Canada, I no longer qualify for any of the socialized health care benefits, so as with any other country in the world, I was relegated to paying cash. And as usual, it was time to stock up on the pill.
I was horrified at the cost of prescriptions in Canada (which was more than double the cost of anywhere else I’d been), and I’ll do my best to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office there again.
Doctor’s Fee: $65
Medicated Cough Syrup: $33
The Pill (6 months): $136
Some of the medical expenses above would not have been covered by travel insurance, even if I tried to make a claim. Generally speaking, travel insurance does not cover expenses like routine doctors’ visits and regular prescriptions. But you’ll be grateful you have travel insurance when something serious happens on the road – trust me, I speak from experience!
And from experience (including claims experience), I recommend World Nomads. They’re the most flexible for insurance, allowing you to apply for and renew it from abroad. Get a free quote here.
Note: If you end up purchasing an insurance policy through this widget, I will receive a small commission. This in no way affects your price, and helps me to keep The Professional Hobo going as a lifestyle travel resource. Thank you in advance for your support!