Monday, March 29, 2010

Insured but pretending not to be

With the healthcare bill all but passed I thought I'd share my experience of being "uninsured" in Korea. A sudden cold attacked me last night and I was up until 6 AM coughing so when I woke up this morning I had a sore, solidly mucus-lined throat and a congested everything. After notifying my boss that I would not be able to make it in today (and he notifying me that if I didn't want to come in I had to get a doctor's note) I headed to Sacred Heart Hospital, which is across the street from my apartment building.

I went straight to the reception area, where you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. My ticket read 403 and they were on 388. "This will take some time," I thought to myself as I settled into one of the chairs. After about 3 minutes I looked up and 403 had rung. It really went that fast. I went up to the "receptionist" (more like a triage nurse) and she asked about my health insurance situation. I handed her my international insurance card (I purchased some health insurance before I came to Korea). She looked confused and asked someone else what to do. They asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I responded, "Yes," nodding to the insurance card. Then another woman asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I nodded once again. Finally, the original woman, who suddenly had a great idea, asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I responded "No." Apparently that was the magic word; the women laughed and said "OK, that will be 16,000 won ($15) please. I paid, told her my symptoms, and then she gave me a hospital card with my name on it and some form for the doctor.

The next battle was finding the doctor. The receptionist told me to go up stairs and turn right, which I did dutifully and found myself very lost. I asked someone else who pointed me to the opposite corner of the second floor, where it said "Ear, Nose and Throat" in English (one of the few English signs). "That makes sense," I thought to myself, since I had a nose and throat issue, but when I got there I only saw two (English) signs: Gynecology and Reconstructive Surgery (they were two separate signs). I asked a nurse and she was nice enough to escort me to the exact location I needed to be.

I waited about twenty minutes to see the doctor, who asked me my symptoms (in English) and then checked down my throat for all of 10 seconds before declaring that I had acute bronchitis and listing an array of meds he was prescribing me. He gave me a form which I took to another reception area, where I took another number and had to wait about a minute (mainly because a woman gave me her ticket when I got there). They told me to go somewhere with complicated gestures, but I ignored them and went where I knew the pharmacy was. At the pharmacy they told me to go outside.

So I did because I realized I could just get the meds from any pharmacy. I went across the street where a fairly crowded group were waiting for their medications. I handed them  my prescription and about a minute and a half later (seriously) they handed me this awesome individualized pack of all of my medications, already divided into the dosages for me. I have to take three things thrice daily (one is an antibiotic, another a painkiller, but I don't know what the third thing is) and I also got some cough syrup.

Total time spent: 2 hours. Total medical bill, including medication: $35. Knowing I'm taken care of in a strange country: Priceless.


I had a pretty good weekend pre-illness:

1. Got a free couch
2. Went to an awesome Salvation Army-type place and got an iron for the low low
3. Got drunk and played Rock Band with some friends
4. Someone made me french toast with nutella and strawberries


  1. $35 "without" insurance?? I think I need to take a visit there.

  2. Still sick? You definitely should, I feel great already.