I was recently blindsided by a health hurdle that sent me into a tailspin. My symptoms were sudden and mysterious, and there was the reality check: I have only minimal health insurance.
My employer, like many local companies, doesn’t offer a health benefits package. I have minimal coverage with an insurance company, which meant the ceilings were high and it would have to be an emergency for coverage to kick in. This story may sound like a nightmare, especially to my family and friends in the US, but it has a happy ending because I’m in Hong Kong.
I’ve never faced long periods without some form of health coverage in the US. In the rare few months when I didn’t have coverage, the most I’ve needed was a visit to a general practitioner – who promptly charged me US$150 for a five-minute consultation.
Now, half a world away, I was faced with a battery of tests and consultations with family doctors and specialists.
Rather than go through the red tape and long queues associated with the public hospital system, I headed to the swifter private hospital route. It was a risky move that would most certainly mean a hefty bill if I were back at home, but here in Hong Kong I made the right decision. The visits – which occurred over a month – weren’t cheap (in the end I paid close to US$2,000), but I got what I paid for, and more.
The customer service was excellent, and the waiting rooms had the feel of an upscale shopping mall. Most importantly, the doctors were top-notch not only in their knowledge and experience, but also in their attitude. In the US, physicians – overworked and overbooked – are increasingly known to have the bedside manner of a gorilla, and the average consultation is around 10 minutes.
Here in Hong Kong, a specialist spent nearly 45 minutes talking with me about my possible condition. He actually remembered my name. Sure, at HK$1,600, the visit wasn’t cheap, but it would have cost double that in the US. The medication was also fairly inexpensive when compared with the prices back home, since Hong Kong physicians prescribe the exact amount needed rather than an entire bottle.
Friends later told me there were other options, too, including clinics run by reputable doctors. Then there is the “medical tour” to Thailand, where I could get my problems addressed and top it off with a full body check-up and a couple of nights at a four-star hotel. And there is always Singapore, which boasts top-notch medical care, too.
My health story is a ray of sunshine when compared with my friends’ medical stories in the US. Those who have full-time jobs and coverage are fortunate. Medicaid and Medicare for the elderly and the underprivileged is a fast-food version of health care, and very often people on those plans are given the lowest priority. There is always the emergency room, but that really is a last resort.
I was fortunate to have options, and to have got sick in Hong Kong and not the US. Back home, the quality of care would be questionable since it’s tough to get access to top physicians, and the bill would most certainly be higher. Of course, it is best to have full coverage, but if that’s not possible, Hong Kong is probably one of the best places to be.
Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator now living in Hong Kong.