*For the January edition of the Mornington Peninsula papers.
Today a wonderful thing happened.
I walked into a radiology centre and got an ultrasound of my wrist done. My doctor had sent me there because he suspected the wrist pain I have been experiencing is caused by a cyst. I showed my Medicare card to the woman at Reception, wrote down a few of my personal details and sat down. I was treated kindly and in a professional manner by everyone. The ultrasound technician explained to me everything I wanted to know in a thoughtful manner. I stopped back at Reception and they told me my results would be sent to my doctor.
Then I walked out.
You’re probably wondering by now why this experience is so special to me. Why is an ultrasound appointment so wonderful? The special part is this: I don’t have medical insurance. I’m not well off financially. I also didn’t pay for the ultrasound.
What is probably just another everyday thing to your average Australian still leaves me feeling gobsmacked and beaming with joy even after over two years. The fact that I am in no way insured and yet I can still get care? And wonderful care at that? Yes, ‘gobsmacked’ pretty much covers it.
But it gets better.
I then drove over to the Family Planning Clinic during their drop-in hours and had a chat about some other issues with a nurse. She suggested a proper appointment so as to allow adequate time to really get to the heart of the issues.
Was I charged a consultation fee? No. Not a single cent.
This might not be a surprising or exciting occurrence to Australians, but to me, it’s like I’ve discovered I am going to live again.
I grew up knowing about insurance from an early age. When my father had a job without much insurance coverage, things were rough and ‘tough it out’ became the common anthem. When he had a job with good insurance cover, things were great.
I remember witnessing my mother get the news that my father’s new job would cover dental. She nearly danced around the kitchen. We had never been able to afford dental insurance on our own and it had been years since he’d had a job that covered it.
But having insurance didn’t always mean much.
I grew up being afraid to get sick. I always felt guilty for needing to go to the doctor because I knew even then that we couldn’t’ afford another medical bill – even if it was just co-pay. And that was if I even got to go to the doctor at all. I never could understand how we could pay for medical insurance each month and yet we still had to pay medical bills.
I went through severe flu, week long ear infections and even kidney stones with no modern medical assistance whatsoever – events which still make me feel emotional today – all because we couldn’t afford the help of a doctor. I have been here over two years and I’m still paying off medical bills from the States because, nearly six months after an emergency room visit, my former insurance company decided it didn’t cover me for that after all.
It is with those events in mind that I almost get teary-eyed with the sense of security I have knowing that even when we’re having a tight fortnight financially, I am still able to see my GP when I need to. Yes, certain things do cost money here, but I am able to get care when I need it.
Believe it or not, there is even more.
For the first time in my life, I went to doctors and they truly talked to me like a human being. I wasn’t made to feel like an idiot, a number, or a potential customer of the latest pharmaceutical ‘wonder’. They had time for my questions and genuinely eased my concerns. They were also hesitant to prescribe medication, more often than not recommending further study or natural treatments.
I could go on about my personal experiences about insurance and its failings, but I would rather recommend the film Sicko by Michael Moore. Think what you will of him, but he compares medical systems around the world and will introduce you to many victims of the US insurance/medical system – including the poor treatment of the heroes from the September 11th disaster. I personally vouch for the authenticity of the experiences of people in the documentary.
My husband was talking to friends the other day and said something I think sums it up well: “For all its failings, at least you know you can get decent care in Australia.”
For that, I am truly thankful.
Until next time...