A penniless ending?

Thursday, 03 February 2011 From Issue Vol. XIX No. 5 By  Dr. Iain Corness

I don’t know how many of you saw the following piece in the Bangkok Post?  It went, “State hospitals in the southern province are shouldering a heavy burden for treating elderly foreigners who cannot afford to pay their medical bills.

Many retired foreigners who came to Thailand with the hope of settling down here are now struggling after spending their pensions wastefully and marrying Thai women, some of whom left them after their money ran out.

Lots of foreigners have fallen ill and been admitted to local hospitals. Their relatives back home refuse to pay for their treatment on being contacted by the embassy…”

What is forgotten by these unfortunate people is that there is no “free” National Health Scheme.  No safety net to catch them when things go bad.  You have to provide your own in this country, and that is called Medical Insurance.

But is your insurance cover enough?  This is a perennial question.  And a perennial headache for private hospitals and those who end up in them!  And if you haven’t upgraded your cover recently, then you may be in for a nasty surprise.  Unfortunately, everything, be that petrol, bread, or baby’s nappies has gone up in price in the past 12 months.  If you haven’t upgraded there could be a shortfall, which you would have to find (or fund), not your insurance company.

When I first came to Thailand to live permanently 14 years ago, I was just as remiss as far as insurance was concerned.  Hospital in-patient insurance?  I passed on that one too.  After all, the only foreseeable problems that could stop me working were massive trauma following a road accident or suchlike, or a heart attack.  In either case you don’t care where you are as long as there are wall to wall running doctors and plenty of pain killers.  In Australia, the “free” public hospital system is fine for that.

So I blithely carried on, after all, I was ten foot tall and bullet proof.  Then a friend over here had a stroke and required hospitalization.  Said friend was four years younger than me and I was forced to review the ten foot bullet proof situation to find I was only five foot eleven and the world was full of kryptonite.  Thailand was a completely new ballgame.

Enquiries as to hospital and medical costs showed that they were considerably less than the equivalent of private hospitals in Oz, but, and here’s the big but, there’s no government system or sickness benefits to fall back on in Thailand.  Suddenly you are walking the tightrope and there’s no safety net to stop you hitting terra firma.

So I took out medical insurance.  Still, it was no gold plated cover.  But it was enough to look after me if I needed hospitalization, and that came sooner than I imagined.  I had always subscribed to the “major trauma” theory, but two days of the galloping gut-rot had me flat on my back with the IV tube being my only life-line to the world.  We are only mortal – even us medicos.

So do you have medical insurance?  Perhaps it is time to chat to a reputable insurance agent!  Yes, reliable insurance agents and reliable insurance companies do exist, but you need help through the minefield.

You also need help when it comes to filling out the application forms, in my opinion.  And you also need to be 100 percent truthful.  Yes, insurance companies will check on your records, and if it is found that you have been sparing with the truth over pre-existing conditions, expect a shock at settling up time at the cashier’s desk.

Remember, too, that just because you have an insurance card does not automatically signify that ‘everything’ is covered.  This is why private hospitals will ask you for a deposit on admission.  If the insurance company later verifies that you are indeed covered for that ailment or condition, then you’ll get it back, but you have to prove that you are covered, not the other way round!

And remember that cheap insurance premiums means you are only getting partial cover.  This is something you have to plan for.  Start by asking around today!

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