Monday, August 7, 2006

Urgent Care

It was early April and Luc had a cough that was lingering. He had had a bad case of croup. We had an appointment with a paediatrician, and were not too worried, but wanted him checked out a little sooner as his cough appeared to be getting worse. A visit to see a GP was what I had in mind. I rang the paediatrician's office to find out if we could get an appointment any sooner. They nonchalantly told me to “just go to the emergency department” of the Children’s Memorial Hospital. Our health insurance had just commenced, the hospital is a couple of blocks from where we live, so we made the trek to the emergency department. 

When in Brisbane, we had taken Luc to the emergency department of the Wesley Hospital (a private hospital) on a Sunday afternoon with a suspected case of conjunctivitis. They were very careful to let us know how much it would cost to see a doctor - $130, upon which we could seek a refund from our insurer. This seemed expensive at the time, but were prepared to spend the money (particularly as it was approaching dinner-time and we couldn’t bear the thought of trying to find a medical clinic and wait around with a tired boy). 

After a wait of about 45 minutes or so in the Emergency department of the Children’s Memorial, the triage nurse looked at Luc. She took his oxygen levels and other vital measurements. She then sent us along to ‘Urgent Care’. This was when I really started to worry. I thought perhaps that we had been a little too blasé about Luc’s condition. Urgent Care! Was he to be admitted? Did he have pneumonia? It wasn’t until we arrived in Urgent Care, that I realised that this was actually a ‘step down’ from Emergency, rather than a case being considered even more urgent than an emergency! Urgent Care is for cases requiring minimal intervention. 

While we were waiting to see an attending doctor in Urgent Care, I gave our insurance details and signed some paperwork. No mention of a fee was for service was made. Luc was checked out by both a nurse and then a doctor. The staff were really lovely and thorough… Luc was given a clean bill of health and we were on our way.    

Several weeks later we received a bill for service. A cool $328, of which $146.17 was covered by medical insurance, leaving us to pay the remaining $181.83. I couldn’t believe it. Then a week later, we received a bill for $85.45 being for the doctor’s time. I was really annoyed as there was no mention at all of any gap payments to be made. 

I was really homesick for our lovely Dr Tim (Davidson) at Red Hill Medical Centre, whom we would have been able to see with perhaps a day’s notice (or another doctor probably that day), and it would have cost us $45 at the most (the majority of which would have been refunded by Medicare).

Recently, Paul went to see a doctor about a stomach complaint. It took him some time to find a doctor (as the doctor has to be recognised by the health insurance provider). He rang several practices before he was able to get an appointment. The appointment itself was affordable (a $20 gap payment). But then he was out-of-pocket $110 for prescribed medication (insurance covered the remaining $93.78). We have started to realise what a significant financial investment it is to stay healthy in this country!

Did I mention that our contribution to private health care is some $300 per month (while Paul’s employer pays 80% of the cost of cover). It would appear that quality health care is totally out of reach for those on a modest income without employer support. 

Gabrielle, an Australian friend, told me it cost them $15,000 a piece to have each of their children here! Of this, up to 80% may be reimbursed, but one needs the money to pay up front. 

Paul had another horror story to tell me. A colleague of his took his child to a emergency department of a hospital. The hospital and doctor were both recognised by the health care provider. Tests were done and samples sent to a pathologist for testing. The pathologist was not covered. Paul’s colleague was faced with a $1500 bill for testing a simple virus (one would think it had been Ebola at that price!) 

I cannot comprehend why the Australian government seems hell-bent on emulating the health system here.

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