A bit of luck – I did get some time to write, even though spellcheck isn´t working. So I´ll post now and spellcheck later. Forgive the errors!
As promised last, a description of just how this will be paid for – especially living abroad. First off, my American health insurance isn´t doing crap. When all this started, I wasn´t too concerned. I thought I´d be returning to the US for treatment and besides, I am an international flight attendant. I was sure I would be covered for care in a foreign country if it turned out that I really needed to stay here. From the beginning, Dr. Awesome assured me that we would work it out.
When the decision came that it was considered an “emergency” that I stay and get the surgery right away, he stated that he would write whatever letters or fill out any forms necessary to prove it was such a situation. The time it would take to go home and have surgery arranged would be detrimental, he felt sure. He said he had had this situation before and it was no problem.
I spent that weekend before surgery trying to contact my health insurance reps to make whatever arrangements necessary. No one had any idea what I ws talking about. They said “international coverage” only covered Puerto Rico and the Caribean. When I insisted that was wrong/ridiculous for a company that regularly sent me to numerous other countries, they started me on the merry-go-round of calling other numbers to speak to other people who merely referred me to other numbers. It was not how I wanted to spend my last days before a year of treatments and god-knows-what else.
I was terribly frustrated and as I went into the hospital, as much as I knew that money was not the most important thing at that moment, concern still began to weigh heavy on my chest like a physical stress. It didn´t help that at every turn the health providers wanted my health insurance information and grew concerned when I didn´t have any sufficient answer to give. They were very, very supportive and understanding however and said that we could work it out later.
My sister, sincerely meaning that she was there to make my life better in whatever way possible, was courageous enough to tell me to forget all my health insurance woes. She would make all the calls and do all the inevitable haggling. Talk about someone who knows how to help!
In the end, my US insurance said they would not pay one red cent to “a foreign entity”. They also said that it was not an emergency, no matter what my doctor insisted. Something was only an emergency if I were, say, “in an accident and losing 5 pints of blood a minute”. Anything less didn´t count. I don´t now how their short-sightedness surprised me.
At most, they said I was free to pay all my bills, keep the receipts and send them in to the office later, for them to decide what, if anything, they would repay. Figuratively, I spat on that offer: I´m not stupid. We all know how insurance works. I knew as well as they that it didn´t mean anything. My hospital stay was to be six days – the Belgian norm. (Obviously their system didn´t prioritize the cost over the care of the patient.) I knew that if I sent those receipts to health insurance they would say, at best, ” in the US the hospital stay is 48 hours or less. So we´ll pay our usual percentage of 2 days.” Nevermind the fact that that meant only about $1500, as medical care in Belgium is often less expensive out-of-pocket than it is in the US with insurance. My entire 6 days cost me 4,500 euros at full price — about the cost of one day in an American hospital.
I refused (and still do) to let my awful health insurance dictate how I would receive my treatment. They would fight not to take care of me properly regardless. That is how health insurance had always worked for me and my family in the US. I´d rather pay out of pocket than fight them. I had other things to concentrate on. It did not make decisions with my concerns in mind; I would not make decisions with them in mind. It was best for me to stay put and that´s what mattered. I have many complaints about living in Belgium, but I cannot say one bad thing about the humanity of the place. I had a feeling that Belgium would help me out however it could. They confirmed this by initially allowing me to proceed with my surgery having given no payment or even proof of eventual ability for payment! They worked out with my sister an agreement to give a good-faith deposit of 1500 euros by the end of the first week, and the rest could be arranged later. How very civil of them. I´d never heard of such a thing in a US hospital.
Belgium surpassed my expectations. My sister explained the whole situation to the counselor. The US insurance problems as well as the story behind my diagnosis – that my Belgian doctor had not caught the cancer nor had she informed me there was anything even remotely questionable about my mammogram. She, in turn, spoke to my former Belgian insurance on my behalf. Amazingly, they agreed to cover my treatment expenses under the same terms of my previous coverage. The only condition was that I regain residence “as soon as possible”. I had until the end of 2007 (18 months) to secure a residence card, or they would be forced to ask for their money back. It is simply not possible to cover someone who is not recognized by the government and that´s the longest they can proactively cover someone. Fair enough. (For the drama of what should have been an easy, open and shut process for residency, see my other blog! The bureaucrats are not as apolitical as the medical care.)
So, that´s where I stand. Covered by the kindness and flexibility of the Belgian system. Hence, the dreams about ¨communists¨accepting me into their home and taking care of me, etc! Hopefully my residence drama will conclude shortly. We´ll see. No matter what, I´ve no regrets about my decision to stay. That´s worth more than the money involved.