i have had a lot of good run-ins with the korean healthcare system, bookended by two hospital visits that, had i made them in the united states, would have put me probably about a grand in debt.
last year, i got food poisoning about three weeks into my stay here and would up going to the hospital for an IV. in the states, this would have meant a visit to the emergency room, automatically putting my bill in the hundreds of dollars. i probably would have spent a long time waiting to be seen and then propped up on a gurney in some hallway next to a drunk with a banana bag. not so at inje paik hospital. i paid the equivalent of about $12 usd to spend four hours in a comfortable bed in a special room for people chillin’ with IV’s, had my own TV to watch and was given treatment pretty much as soon as I walked in the door. that’s when i started falling in love with korea’s universal healthcare system.
back home, i could barely afford to go in for a sick visit when i got strep throat, so i don’t even want to imagine what would have happened to my bank account if i’d been in the u.s. today. i went to bed last night with a killer headache, and when i woke up today, it was still going strong. light and sound sensitivity, nausea, the works. by 6:30, i was in a warm embrace with my latrine, dry heaving constantly. i tried to hold out until the doctor’s offices opened, knowing that going to the emergency room could be expensive, but by 7:15, i was fighting back tears of pain in the back of a cab on my way there. thank the lord for the nice, nice people at the hospital, who tried so earnestly to understand what was ailing me in spite of not speaking english. within ten minutes, i was installed in a bed, getting juiced with some very effective painkillers and god knows what other magical things they put into IV fluid.
four hours later, it was time to go, and i braced myself for the bill. it was $35. to go to the emergency room. detractors of universal health care often cite supposedly epic waits to receive care as one of their main beefs with the system, but i’ve always been able to walk right into the office of whatever doctor i needed to be seen by and be sitting with the doctor within 20 min, no appointments necessary. the one time i remember taking myself to the ER in the states, i waited three hours before i gave up and left. the quality of care here, in my experience, is better than the quality of care i received from most of my healthcare providers back home. granted, i haven’t had to go in for surgery to broken bones or anything serious, so i can’t speak to the quality or efficiency of that care. but i know that for the day-to-day sick visits, med checks, yearly check-ups an unexpected emergencies that concern most people most of the time, the united states’ private healthcare system isn’t even in the same league as the ROK’s in terms of affordability and access.
did i mention that my (mandatory) medical insurance payment each month is only 2.5% of my income, which works out to about $45 a month?
back home, i couldn’t afford insurance. i couldn’t afford sick visits. i couldn’t afford prescriptions. most of the people i know were in the same boat. here in korea, i don’t make a whole lot more money than i made back home, but the prices of insuring yourself and paying for treatment and medicine are actually affordable. living here, i’ve found it baffling how fully convinced so many people back home (who have never actually lived in a country with universal healthcare or experienced one of these countries’ healthcare systems firsthand) are that universal care would be a disaster for the united states somehow. but i would like to encourage, strongly encourage anyone who reads this to be skeptical of those kinds of claims. because everyone i know from nations that ensure this kind of care for their citizens — canadians, brits, germans, koreans — seem extremely happy with the quailty and availability of the care they receive in their home countries, and my own experience with it has been overwhelmingly positive.