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. They don’t exactly have the cheapest doctor. 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.
This post was originally published in 2012 . It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
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 qualified 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 or the link above, 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!