I battle a scary demon.
And ever since I arrived here, South Korea has done nothing but feed that demon and since has turned that demon into a raging monster.
My need/want for a universal health care system in the United States.
Sorry Uncle Richard. Your niece is a socialist.
All jokes aside, after going through a mild/moderate health issue here in the Republic of Korea. I thought it might be a good post to detail what that South Korean medical process for foreigners is like, especially when you face something a bit more serious then the common cold.
So the reason I bring up universal health care is because that is what South Korea currently has set up. As an employee in Korea I pay tax into the health insurance program every month to have access to basic health care like any normal Korean. It amounts to 7% of my monthly pay check. But since I am a government employee my employer actually pays half of that 7% for me. So it’s really only 3.5% that is coming out of my paycheck.
This lets me go to pretty much any doctor for any basic reason. This is important because going to the doctor in Korea is not quite like going to the doctor back home.
First of all, Koreans call going to the normal doctor “going to the hospital.” I have no idea why. It’s been 4 months, and I still have a too extreme reaction whenever one of my students tells me they went to the hospital. I can’t help it. I hear “hospital” and think “death bed.” The exchange when someone tells me they went the hospital normally looks like this:
“YOU DID? WHY!? MENINGITIS?”
“No, Laura-sam I have a cold.”
And these so-called “hospitals” are like Starbucks. On every street corner. Literally you need a doctor? Just walk a block, two at most, and there will be a clinic you can visit. When you find one, you walk in, give your name, insurance card, the doctor will see you pretty much right away, tell you whats wrong, give you a prescription, you pay and then you’re sent on your way.
In and out usually in 15-20 minutes. The whole visit, with insurance, will cost between $10-20. If you need more serious treatment the doctor will essentially write you a prescription for like the surgery or whatever you need and point you in the direction of a true “hospital” where you can have the procedure done. If you need a specialist, they will refer you.
And you also will most likely receive a shot in the butt. I know I did. Came as quite a surprise. They seem to believe this shot has some sort of awesome healing powers. It mostly just confused me.
South Korean health insurance covers the basics, and not much else. If you have anything beyond a common cold or a simple resolvable medical issue Korean insurance will probably not cover it. So then you’re paying out of pocket. But even then health care in South Korea is significantly cheaper than almost anywhere else in the world. It’s so cheap in fact that many people will travel to South Korea to have operations here instead of their home country, especially if they are not covered by insurance. In fact, medical tourism, is cited as the second largest reason people come to Korea. In my case I had 3 doctor visits, received two separate mildly invasive treatments, a night in the hospital, and 6 different prescription and my total came to about $110. Insurance only helped me cover the visits and the prescriptions but did not cover them fully. This is more than affordable for someone who is being paid my wage in South Korea.
For many it’s cheaper to hike it to Korea, pay for the surgery and accommodations here, then go home, over having the same procedures done in their home country.
In my case, I had to have a needle aspiration of a peritonsillar abscess. Yes, it was as horrible as it sounds. And when the needle aspiration failed I had to have a incision made in my throat complete with stitches. Now Korea is good about health care but not as good about sick leave. Despite a fever, heavy painkillers and having to spend the night in the hospital I was given ONE day off work. Apparently that’s actually a pretty good deal. It took 2 weeks to take care of the whole problem. 0/10 would not do again. Even in a country where I speak the language.