Something I should really care about more but just don’t is health insurance. I always have it, but I just never use it. I am an insurance companies dream! So when it came time to deal with it while overseas at the same time, I was very very lazy about it. I usually don’t even think about it, but since my travels to New Zealand was having me quit my job and I was going to be gone who knows how long, I figure I should deal with it somehow. It wasn’t until I finished with my job and realized that COBRA was fucking expensive that I bought an individual plan through Kaiser which I had been paying for through my company for years. I called to ask how their insurance covers you when you are overseas and the women on the phone said if anything happens, just pay for it all out of pocket, save every receipt and deal with a refund when you get home. This worked well for me because (knock on wood) I have been very lucky in my health and traveling that nothing has really ever happened to me, so why should this trip be any different? And for the most part I was fine.
While in New Zealand, over Easter weekend of 2007 I cut my toenail kind of funky and things started going down hill from there. After a couple of weeks, I realized I had an ingrown toenail. Not wanting anyone to deal with it, I did home remedies of keeping it very clean and soaking it in iodized salt every day for a few months. It started to get better and over Labour Day weekend at the end of October, 2007 I went caving in Waitomo and had to wear booties on my feet all day with water slushing around. After this, my toe went down hill fast. Right before my family came in mid December I found a podiatrist in central Auckland to get it checked out. There, I saw the price for removing the nail. NZ$450 plus 2 follow ups at NZ$50 a pop. FUCKING HELL! I did not want to spend my money on that. I told the doctor that and he gave me some over the counter stuff and advice and I did that. The trip with my parents was a little hellish (from my toes point of view) but somehow we all survived. In mid January the toe was just not getting better. I called the doctor and made an appointment for the following day, but it just got too painful that I left work early and had them deal with it right then and there. I screamed like a banshee and refused to watch, but I didn’t care. Thank god I was the last patient of the day in a town that I knew hardly anyone and wasn’t going to stay forever. I could scream as loud as I wanted! It was painful, but a few hours after the surgery, felt so much better. I went back for my follow ups and paid for 2 additional appointments because the toe wasn’t healing as fast as the doctor wanted (funny enough with the exchange rate changing all the time, all the appointments cost like NZ$45 each, but in USD, they changed every time) and since podiatrists at the time in New Zealand couldn’t prescribe antibiotics, I had to go to a GP, pay them NZ$70, just for her to look at my toe and write the RX and then go and buy the antibiotics. It was funny, after she looked at my toe for like 20 seconds and wrote the script, she tried to bandage my toe back up, but since I had been doing it for nearly a year at that point, I did it so much better then her. So with all the medical care towards this (not even including all that salt and 18 months worth of plaster changes twice a day plus the exchange rate fee I had to pay in using the credit card) it came to nearly NZ$1000. Christ.
How did I pay for this and what does this have to do with health insurance? Since Kaiser told me to pay for this all out of pocket and deal with it when I got home, that is what I did. I put every doctor thing on my US credit card, so it would transfer automatically to USD and I could get a supposedly quick refund. I paid for it in USD and printed out every statement and photocopied every bill and even my antibiotic bottle, so it was easy to track. Over a year later, when I finally got home, it was time for me to deal with it. I found the paperwork I had to fill out on the Kaiser website and included photocopies of everything. I included copies of my passport and all my exit and entry stamps to both New Zealand and Australia since Australia was my last stop before I came back to the US. They asked for original copies of my plane tickets as well, but I didn’t want to include them. Oddly, I found my out going ticket (nearly 2 years old) but I could not find my return ticket. I told them this, included a copy of my outgoing ticket and included all my stamps, fingers crossed that this would be okay, because if the rumor about insurance companies is true, they’ll do anything in their power not to pay. Nearly 30 pages of documents, a trip to the post office and my fingers crossed.
And what a surprise! Just when I was about to run out of USD, 4 to 6 weeks later, I get 3 checks in the mail and they all add up to exactly what I asked for!
Moral: Get your ingrown toenails fixed NOW. It wasn’t worth a year of pain. And insurance companies aren’t as bad as they seem:-).