When you fall ill during travel

I never had experience of visiting doctor during my travel. There were minor health issues but were resolved by self medications. But during by recent travel to US, I had to visit the doctor. This post talks about my experience in general and briefly touches about travel insurance.

As I boarded my flight from Bengaluru, I felt some uneasiness in my eyes. I could not do anything about it at that time. When I got down at San Francisco, I noticed that one of my eye had turned red. I hoped that my condition would improve but I got up next day with a swollen eye. That is when I got worried and since it was related to one of the vital system I decided to visit doctor. I had no prior experience about doctor visit in US. I did google search and found few eye clinics. I do not trust big hospitals and ignored them. Unfortunately it was Sunday and most of the clinics were closed. But I managed to find one that opened at 12 noon.

Visiting a doctor in US is not very simple. A prior appointment is mostly needed and I had come unannounced. I told that I was a visitor and all this happened suddenly. Luckily, there was an appointment that was cancelled and the receptionist was kind enough to accommodate me. I was asked to fill a form with lot of details and sign at many places. It was a bit of surprise that such an elaborate process was followed even for a simple doctor visit. Well, that is US.

She asked me how was I going to pay. I showed my travel insurance but it was not accepted for cashless transaction. I had to pay out of my pocket and claim later. The price would depend on the complexity of the issue!! 

The consultation was very elaborate and the doctor took a lot of time examining my eyes. She then told that it was an allergy and was not serious and prescribed an eye drop which I had to buy from pharmacy. The consultation charge was $120. It looked a lot to me but later I learnt that it was very cheap compared to other specialists!!

Sincerely hoping that my claim will be refunded, I went to the pharmacy and gave my prescription. When asked for the mode of payment, I told that I will pay from my pocket. I almost collapsed when I heard the price of the eye drop. It was $220. Oh my god…. that was around fifteen thousand rupees!! So shocked was I that it took some time for me to respond. Finally I paid the money and came back to hotel.

I knew that healthcare in US was expensive but never thought that it is so bad. Everything related to healthcare in US is centered around making money by big companies. The same eye drop is sold at fraction of that price in neighbouring Canada. I also heard that the pharma companies charge much less to the insurance companies.

Nevertheless, this post is not to lament about the healthcare situation is US but to let know the readers about healthcare costs outside India. Imagine the cost if there an emergency!! One of my friend had to undergo surgery for appendicitis (condition that needs to be addressed immediately) during his short stay in US. The cost was 14 lakhs!! 

Travel insurance
That brings me to the topic of travel insurance. It is extremely important to have a travel insurance. I see blogs canvassing for certain insurance companies but what is important is to check their claim process. Look at the fine prints. In my case, it mentioned that I need to contact insurance company for approval before visiting doctor. I was not aware of this but luckily this did not block my claim as the insurance was issued through corporate. There may not be such luck for personal insurance. Also, check for all documents that is required for claim. So it matters a lot on how easy is it to contact them and get approval. Also, check whether insurance helps in cashless transaction. You may not be having money to pay upfront always. There is no point if the insurance becomes just a piece of paper. 

There are also certain conditions where insurance companies do not reimburse. If you are going on a skiing and if insurance does not cover for accidents from adventure, there is no point in having such an insurance. I did not take any insurance when I trekked to Everest Base Camp. It made complete sense to take insurance as Nepal provides helicopter evacuation during emergencies (Ex: High altitude sickness, HAPE, HACE) in remote mountains. But the Insurance companies I knew did not cover the helicopter evacuation. I do not need an insurance just to visit a doctor in Kathmandu!!

Also take a note of deductibles. Many insurance companies take a minimum of $100 as deductible for any health claims. It is a significant amount of money.

While I recommend to have travel insurance, do your homework. Do not go by the flashy ads. Check the experience of people who underwent the claim process. Travel insurance is a must if you are travelling to western countries where healthcare costs are high.

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