I recently had a health care epiphany after I was thrown a brief medical crisis. Bad news: The apricot-sized lump that I found in my left breast turned out to be D.C.I.S., a non-invasive early stage of cancer. "If I were you I'd get it taken care of immediately," the doctor said.
When it comes to a medical sentence like cancer, matters of life and death come to mind, and most of us don't begin calculating the costs of treatment. The medical price tag takes an immediate backseat.
With a match lit under me, I went into action immediately, scheduling a consultation with a breast surgeon and surgery, all part of the private health care system. I had the option of taking the public health care route, but in a case like mine -- stage 0 cancer vs. stage 3 or 4 -- I would have been a number on a lengthy queue and was told it would take perhaps a year or so before getting served for surgery.
Of course, the private route is far from being cheap either, but being that Hong Kong is geographically compact, I was able to score an appointment the day after the diagnosis with one of the top surgeons in the city. A week later I checked the lumpectomy off the list and checked out of the hospital, and am now ready to tackle radiation treatment.
Total package, including surgeon fee and four nights of hospital stay? U.S. $12,500 out of pocket. With the limited insurance I had with my employer, the out of pocket was reduced to U.S. $8,000.
Although U.S. $8,000 is no chump change, I feel lucky when I'm reminded that the same procedure for someone uninsured would likely cost twice as much in the states. And I would not have swift access to see the top breast surgeons; after all, I am not a member of the super wealthy, the 2 percent of the population who have access or connections to the top docs and hospitals.
The flip scenario, which is simply not part of the picture, would be if I were poor and had a lengthy enough history of being poor to earn me Medicaid. Then I would have access to the best hospitals and care.
I am well aware that Obamacare is on the way, but after the latest crisis I view it wearily rather than seeing it as the solution. While it is true that being insured will be a necessity, it is also true that we as middle-class Americans will bear the cost of being insured. Simply put, there is no free lunch.
If I am earning say U.S. $30,000 a year and it comes down to paying for my next meal versus bearing the costs of being insured I would rather eat. The cost may be lower than private insurers, but in the end as is expected it would come out of our own pockets. Issues of the cost and the quality of care are important factors to weigh also.
So despite being dealt the lemon, I feel fortunate that I was dealt the lemon in Hong Kong, after squeezing enough lemons I did get to enjoy the lemonade at the very least. As for Obamacare, which is right around the corner, we shall see.