Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Adventures in a foreign land...

I'd lie if I said living abroad doesn't pose challenges. They're often unexpected, though, and sneak up in innocent situations. Like... healthcare.

I've been nervous about having to see a doctor here in the US, because the healthcare system works so differently from Sweden. And to be honest, deep in my heart I distrust all healthcare professionals I encounter outside of my country's borders.

It's just a stupid bias I have. There are plenty of foreign doctors working in Sweden, but there I know they've passed my country's approval, and odds are they know what they're doing. Here, TV is crammed filled with ads saying, "Have a healthcare career in only nine months!"

Nine months? This does not install confidence.

Anyway, this spring I got health insurance through my daytime job. It made me feel better about the whole healthcare thing. The figures on the piece of paper seemed staggering - out of pocket fees up to $10,000 - but at least there was something protecting me in case I'd stumble and fall down the stairs.

The company owner has patiently explained to me how American healthcare works, and even if my skepticism wasn't gone, I was less concerned than I have been. He taught me about walk-in clinics and explained that if I went to see an in-network doctor at a walk-in clinic I'd only have to pay $35.

It didn't sound too bad. Especially since I'm normally healthy.

The last couple of months I've been stressed and not feeling so good. I've been dizzy, my feet swell, I have fantastic headaches and heart pains, and almost fall asleep on my office chair from time to time. None of these things are normal for me. I've been postponing my doctor's visit until after the move, but now I decided to try one of those walk-in clinics for a check-up. I haven't seen a doctor since 2007, and who knows, maybe my blood pressure needs a tune-up or something.

I went onto the Aetna website to search for an in-network clinic, and came up with nothing. I search on the adjacent cities as well, and the result was still... nothing.

Was I doing something wrong? I e-mailed their customer service and received a prompt, apologetic answer saying there is no provider within a 100 mile radius of my zip code.

My first reaction was, "Are you joking?"

My employer and I share the burden of the health insurance cost, and we're talking hundreds of dollars per month. My employer pays the same for all the other employees, to ascertain that we can seek out medical assistance if needed. For all this we get "no provider within a 100 mile radius."

The e-mail also provided a phone number, and said I could call to have an out-of-network provider pre-approved before my visit. I hate phones, and I hate calling people, but I did anyway, because I've really felt murky lately. I worry; I'm not getting any younger, and who will take care of my family and doggies if something happens to me?

I spent around 20 minutes on the phone with a woman who didn't understand what I wanted and couldn't help me. Her system didn't show any walk-in clinics in the Tampa Bay area, even though I looked them up online and provided names, addresses, phone numbers, and so on.

She finally gave up and connected me to someone else, probably just to get rid of me. This second person could help even less; she didn't even try until I broke out in half hysterical laughter and explained that Aetna was the most comical company I've encountered for at least a decade. Eager to get rid of me, she found the number to another customer service function and hung up.

The people in this third place gave me the number to woman number one, saying she should be able to help me have an out-of-network provider pre-approved before my visit.

At this point, I gave up. I was not calling woman number one back.

I e-mailed my boss and told him the story, asking if we might have a company contact person somewhere who can solve this. We'll see what happens. Right now, flying home to see a doctor seems like a feasible alternative. LOL! What little faith I had in the US healthcare system is shattered once again. How do Americans survive when going in for a routine checkup is this difficult?

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