Somehow, despite my habitual combination of clumsiness and lunacy, I’ve amassed a total of two broken bones in my lifetime. The first time in America, and the second occurred just a few weeks ago right here in Korea. Both times it’s been the same thing: A broken toe. Because I go hard, yo. I look dangerous situations dead in the eye and say to them – “Yeah, I think I’ll go around. Where’s the nearest staircase?”
My general scaredy-cat-ness aside, having the exact same injury twice, in two countries, has allowed me to get an idea of how the Korean health care system and public view on health care differs from good ol’ ‘Murrica. Let’s chat.
I feel like I should mention that the following is a commentary on the American healthcare system itself, not the doctors, nurses and staff currently practicing within. They are bound by the standards of their profession and must act accordingly. I can also only promise accuracy as far as my personal experience, education, and conversation with others can provide. Don’t hate, bro.
Let’s talk about the general attitude in America and Korea regarding illness and what warrants going to see the doctor vs. what does not.
When I broke my toe in Korea, I received the following:
-1 doctor’s visit and 2 follow-up appointments
-2 splint sets
-2 weeks worth of medication including 1 antibiotic, 1 pill for pain, and 1 pill for digestion just for funsies to be taken 3 times a day.
This, from my experience in Korea thus far, seems indicative of the general Korean attitude of “We got a fix for that shit” regarding everything from the sniffles to your chin not having quite the V shape you’re looking for. I coughed in the office once, and ten minutes later I had to talk my coteacher down from calling the nearest hospital to make me an appointment for a flu shot (Sidebar: Today is Preposition Monday.)
That being said, don’t expect to be able to rest at home once you’ve visited the nearest hospital. This is, after all, diligent Korea. I was lucky enough to be placed in a school that ordered me to stay at home and watch The Heirs for several days once I received my splint, but I do know many people that are taking their antibiotics between classes. It just depends on your school.
When I broke my toe in America, I received the following:
In America, you just don’t go to the doctor unless there is at least a 93% chance you are dying. And even then, you generally check Google first for “Heart Attack home remedies”. Why? For any number of reasons.
Healthcare is expensive. Without insurance, a trip to the general practictioner’s office can cost a base amount anywhere from $50-100; a specialist costs more. This is, of course, before the office charges you $25 for the disposable tongue depressor they used and $75 for the pregnancy test they give to female college students every time they come in with so much as a cold. Oh, you think telling the nurse you’re celibate, showing them your purity ring, doing the special “I’m not gettin’ any” dance, and swearing on the Bible, Quran, your mother’s life, and a Chinese takeout menu will convince them that test is unnecessary?
Everybody lies. Now give me your money.
Even with insurance, a co-pay can be expensive as well, and there is, of course, the very real possibility your insurance company will cover only a small portion of your medical bill (or nothing at all). Because they’re eeeeeeeeeeevil. Eeeeeeeeeevil.
Aside from the astronomical expensive of a doctor’s visit, going to the doctor in America just takes got-dayum forever. Allow me to illustrate: I went into a virtually empty E.R. late one evening with the worst migraine I’ve ever experienced. After sitting in the exam room for 6 hours (not an exaggeration) I had to leave the room, go to the nurses’ station in tears, beg for them to kill me and put me out of my misery, and set their scrubs on fire before they gave me a painkiller and sent me home without so much as an exam.
Of course, emergency rooms are an extreme example and you will invariably have a long wait ahead should you have to go.
There’s something wrong with that, now that I think about it.
Nonetheless, even a general office visit can take hours. You wait in the waiting room. You get to the exam room and wait even longer. If someone were to make a pie chart of what I’ve spent my life doing up until this moment, it would look like this:
There might be some life choices I need to evaluate.
So yeah. If you get sick in Korea, you’re automatically taken to the doctor, prescribed medication, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket, and given a comfort kitten just to be safe. If you get sick in America, you’re given a slap on the ass and told to buck up and Google it.
The breakdown is like this: The South Korean healthcare system is a single-payer system in which every Korean and many foreign residents pay a tax percentage, calculated on a graduated scale based on their income. In return, they receive inexpensive (I believe the technical term is “hella cheap”) treatment for most medical woes. The American healthcare system is some convuluted combination of private insurance and social care programs where Americans pay taxes and some of it goes toward health care for some people enrolled in the aforementioned social care programs, sometimes, but not all or even most of the time, but it’s okay if you have private insurance, because then your medical treatment will still be cheap…ish…if the doctor you visit accepts your private insurance, and your private insurance company decides that your treatment is neither elective nor resulting from a pre-existing condition, so hopefully that doesn’t hap-
Last photo taken of Liz before confusion-induced mental collapse.
Anyway, although I’ve spent a large portion of the last few years devoted to being generally annoyed at the current state of the American health care system, I’m no expert, and I’m still new to the Korean health care system. So let me break down the differences on a basic level:
Wait time in America: For-damned-ever. Likely Death will beat your doctor to your exam room.
Wait time in Korea: Virtually nonexistent. This is Korea; nobody got time for that shit.
America: (2012 figures taken from this site)
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation (READ: no tests) without insurance: $68
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation (READ: no tests) with insurance: $15-25 copay
Average cost for 3 orthopedic specialist consultations, 3 X-rays, 2 splints, 1 boot, 2 antibiotic shots in the bum, 1 2-week supply of 3 kinds of medication, regardless of insurance: *cry*
Korea: (figures taken from many, many conversations and personal experiences)
Average cost for general doctor’s consultation: 5,000 Won-ish
Average cost for 3 orthopedic specialist consultations, 3 X-rays, 2 splints, 1 boot, 2 antibiotic shots in the bum, 1 2-week supply of 3 kinds of medication, regardless of insurance: 37,500 Won when everything was said and done.
So, like I said, although I like to think I’m a couple steps above the netizens on Facebook sharing images like this:
So uneducate. Much dumb.
I am an expert in the intricacies of neither health care system. I have my opinions, but they are based upon a combination of fact and personal experience, rather than merely fact, so ingest with a grain of salt, please.
That said, any future/hopeful incoming GET or foreign resident concerned about getting sick in this strange, foreign, noraebang-and-Paris-Baguette-laden land, fear thee not! Getting sick in Korea is AWESOME.
In closing, I leave you with this image. This is Roh Hwan-kyu, the President of the Korean Medical Association. On December 15th, he gave a speech in front of around 10,000 other doctors in protest of privatization of the Korean healthcare system. He cut his own throat during his speech with a giant-ass knife to show how strongly he was opposed to the idea.