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Article by Mohan Babu


How to keep the doctor’s bill away!

Lack of primary medical care by the government has helped the medical insurance industry become one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the US, says Mohan Babu

Most of us have probably heard the popular adage that goes...”A healthy mind resides in a healthy body”. All of us work hard towards maintaining a balance between a healthy physique and busy lifestyle. It is of paramount importance to continue to maintain good health, especially if one lives and works in a foreign country.

The western lifestyle, although relatively free of pollutants, dust and common infections, still has its share of diseases and health related problems. Of course, there is the risk of accidents to which we are all susceptible. Many of us who leave India in our twenties and thirties, come abroad to live and work do not think twice about these matters but we probably should. We are blissfully unaware of the necessity or importance of having access to assured medical care.

United States has some of the most advanced medical research, diagnostic and treatment facilities that can be found anywhere in the world. Many a Hindi film has portrayed scenes of wealthy Indians coming to the US for advanced treatment and people from around the world come here for research, medical studies and treatment. However, all the medical systems, treatment and access to it, come at a price which is not normally affordable to all but the extremely wealthy. Even the federal government that collects a percentage of salaries and wages towards ‘medicare’ (retirement medical care) has all but absolved itself of the responsibility of medical care for its citizens and residents.

I do not mean to imply there are no laws in place to force hospitals and medical care providers to provide basic care to everyone in the US. On the contrary, there are laws that ensure that everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, is guaranteed emergency care. The ubiquitous ‘911 system’ ensures that anyone in the US who picks up a phone and dials 911 can call for police, fire or medical help that will arrive within a few minutes.

However, for non-emergency medical care, one has to pay through their nose. Even a simple doctor’s visit can run up a few hundred dollars if not more. What then is the recourse available to us, the ordinary working professionals who might meet with an unforeseen accident, illness or medical condition that might set us back by thousands of dollars? The answer is medical insurance.

The lack of primary medical care by the government has helped the medical insurance industry become one of the largest and fastest sectors in the US. There are more than a dozen multinationals and hundreds of small insurance companies that provide insurance ranging from individual plans to group and corporate medical plans.

It would be an understatement to say that medical insurance is almost mandatory for everyone coming to the US. This applies even to visitors who may be spending only a few months with their relatives here. Employers lure employees with the bait of good medical benefits. Case in point: During the dotcom revolution, when employees were bending over their backs to entice prospective employees, a Silicon Valley firm was offering a ‘BMW Z3 roadster’ as a sign-on bonus. Employees were also given an option of full medical/dental coverage for 10 years in lieu of the roadster. Guess what most employees opted for? The insurance package of course!

Why is it that insurance is given such importance in the US society? There are many reasons. Medical expenses are extremely high and not subsidised by the government. Another reason is that in a land of lawsuits, no one, not even doctors and medical professionals are immune. In order to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits, doctors and medical professionals refrain from diagnosing all but the most common afflictions and make the patient undergo a slew of tests before any recommendation can be made. This over-diagnosing costs money.

A couple of years ago, the morning after I played a game of hectic racquet-ball, my back just snapped. Actually I had just pulled a muscle and not wanting to take any chances, my friend called an ambulance and rushed me to the ER - Emergency Room. The doctors there knew right-away that it was a muscle pull, but not wanting to take any chances, ordered an array of tests and X-rays of my back from different angles. After looking at the results they shrugged their shoulder, gave me a painkiller shot and a few aspirins. The bill — a whopping three thousand dollars.

Not all insurance packages provided by employers are the same. Some employers provide complete coverage without any charge or co-pay. Others expect the employee to chip in a fixed amount every month towards the insurance. Even the coverage is highly subjective and varies from (insurance) provider to provider. Many insurance companies try to scuttle huge bills that people run up, leaving them high and dry. Incidentally one of President Bush’s biggest political victories in recent times was the passage of “Patient’s Bill of Rights” that allows individuals to sue their medical care providers. It is hoped that this will bring much needed accountability into the system.

It is heartening to note that most large Indian software houses provide adequate insurance coverage to their consultants and employees before sending them to the US. However, some of the smaller houses and body-shoppers try to cut corners by luring prospective employees with a pay package alone. Medical benefits are not talked about, leaving the employees in a big financial mess if the unforeseen medical problem arises. Most American companies provide medical coverage for employees for a month after they quit their job or are laid-off. They also allow the ex-employees to ‘purchase’ insurance from the group plan.

In the US, expenses related to medical contingencies cannot be prevented but adequate insurance can at least help offset the unforeseen.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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