FOR OVER 40 YEARS I DIDN’T WORRY ABOUT MEDICAL BILLS UNTIL I MOVED TO AMERICA

by Eve Chen // March 28, 2019
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On Nov 22, 2014, on a couch in our home in Sydney, Australia, my husband asked me a question that would change my life in ways I could have never imagined:

“Do you want to go on an adventure and move to the U.S. for a few years?”

This seemingly simple question led to a number of sleepless nights. Both he and I are energetic adventure seekers who love to share with our little girl the same appetite for life. But mass shootings and healthcare are two major issues that immediately came to mind when my husband asked me to move to the United States.

I have had what I would describe as a fairly comfortable life. I was born into a working-class family in Taiwan. I lived “Down Under” in Australia for 25 years after my parents migrated from Formosa Island in early 1991. I grew up pretty much in a bubble. We had crocs, all sorts of beautiful spiders, snakes and sharks all around us. Despite all these possible hazards, there is one hazard we never had to worry about: how to pay our medical bills. Life was comfortable in Australia. All I could complain about was the weather. The commute to work and the boring conversations over football (not American football) at work were also not highlights.

When I graduated from college in 1997, I moved to Canberra and became a public servant, and it was there that I had the opportunity to work for the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. These two Labor Party leaders were instrumental in the institution of Australia’s single payer system/Medicare program. I was a junior public service officer with the Department of Education. Because of my bilingual skills, I was delegated as an interpreter to assist DFAT(Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), AUSaid, the Chief Minister’s office and a number of other federal departments whenever delegations from Chinese speaking countries came to Canberra on official visits. Due to my position, I had the great fortune to interpret for both Prime Minister Hawke and Prime Minister Whitlam and from that, I learned what these two great men had done to introduce Australia’s first Single Payer healthcare program in 1975.

When you live in a bubble where you just have health care, you do not really think too much about issues like how someone pays medical bills. We simply pay 2% out of our paycheck and everyone is covered. It really is that simple. No co-pay, no deductible, and no hassle. It was when we decided to move to America that I realized just how different of a system it is here.

This is why I became an ardent Bernie supporter and how I became an activist to fight for a single payer system for America.

A Priceless Miracle That Cost $143 Only

In May 2012, I experienced a miracle. Our baby girl was born at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. Maya arrived a year before we were ready, but she is a blessing for us nonetheless. I had a very tough pregnancy and I was sick every day of the 10 months until the day she arrived. As sick as I was, my husband and I made the most of it, and we joked our way all through the process. Maya is priceless for us, as is any child born to loving parents. Giving birth to a child is, unfortunately for Americans, not without out-of-pocket costs, though.

Maya’s birth cost us AUD$200 in Australia; that was because the 19th-week scan fell on Christmas Day and all specialist departments of the hospitals were shut down. I had to go to a private ultrasound practitioner to get that important scan done. The scan cost $275 and Medicare gave us a rebate of $75. Had I done the whole thing through the public system it would have cost me zero out of pocket. Australian citizens and residents have pooled in money together so everyone living in Australia can receive their medical treatment without worrying about how to pay for it.

“You Have To Take Me To The Emergency Room!”

Fast forward to 2016. With two hospital visits, we found out how the For-Profit system had Americans buried in mountains of debts.wi

By the time we migrated to Denver, our daughter was nearly four years old. She contracted a virus and was hospitalized due to her low oxygen level (the high altitude didn’t help I guess). The doctor at the children’s hospital did an amazing job and found out straight away that it wasn’t bacterial based. Maya simply needed the extra support of oxygen to recover from the viral flu. We were discharged on the fourth day. The hospital food was really good and the private room was modern and nice. As we walked out of the hospital, the discharging nurse told us the hospital will call to let us know how much it cost. After two weeks we got a phone call from the hospital. The bill for three nights of hospital stay, access to oxygen, food and the routine checkup came with a shocking bill of $32,000. I was literally gobsmacked, but we were lucky; because we had our travel insurance with us, the out of pocket cost was AU$100 (US$73) and the Australian travel insurance took care of the rest of the bill.

Four months later, my husband went home for a visit to attend a very close friend’s father’s funeral. The layover on the way back to Denver in Los Angeles was 8 hours long and my husband was so tired from the travel he fell asleep on the airport chair. Two days after he came back to Denver he became violently ill. My husband is 6’3 and he was hugging the toilet bowl, violently vomiting, and could not move himself out of the bathroom. Around 6 pm on the second evening, he looked at me and spoke softly, “you have to take me to the emergency room.” I called our neighbor to take care of our daughter. I tried my hardest and used all the strength I had to help him to the car. We arrived at the Swedish Medical Center Emergency Room in ten minutes. The staff quickly admitted him into an examining room. Within thirty minutes, they had his pain under control. They started taking blood samples and X rays to find out the cause. Within another hour, the results came back and confirmed that he had contracted Swine flu (Influenza A). As there were no reported cases in Australia, my guess was that he caught it when he fell asleep at the L.A. airport.

The doctors could not do much, so we were sent home when his pain was under control. This time I talked to the hospital about the bill. Again they said, don’t worry we will contact you. Another two weeks passed and we received the phone call. The bill came to $14,500. When we told the hospital that we do not have medical insurance and we will settle with cash, the hospital staff told us straight away that they would give a discount. The bill dropped from $14,500 to $1,758! Yes, you are reading that correctly. We received an 87% discount simply because we are not using the for-profit insurance system! It was then that I realized how Americans are being ripped off left, right, and center. The actual hospital cost is $1,750 and the rest is the administrative costs charged by the private insurance system. All with one goal: fund the fat CEO paychecks.

The above is the insurance claim. Sadly I do not have a copy of the original medical bill anymore. A request has been sent to the hospital so I can upload the original invoice.

Again we were able to use our travel insurance and only had to pay $73 out of pocket and the rest was covered.

Time For America To Demand A Better System

This is how I experienced first hand why the for-profit system is extremely inefficient and it only works for the rich in this country. According to the study done by Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. healthcare system is consistently ranked last among the 11 nations. From cost, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives standpoints, the USA performed last among all nations examined. The cost is more than twice that of the Australian medical system, which came in fourth after the U.K., Switzerland, and Sweden.

When I learned that Bernie Sanders has been talking about Medicare-for-All for years, I was extremely excited. I know just what a difference it will make, not only to those who cannot afford healthcare but to those working class folks who are being charged an exorbitant amount of money by the private health insurance companies. In many cases, people are paying for coverage, but can’t truly benefit from the insurance they do have, because of the deductibles. When we looked into the Colorado healthcare marketplace, the quotes came to a minimum of $1,000 a month to cover a self-employed family of three for anything comparable to the private health insurance in Australia. Australia has a dual system and I was paying $190 for a family of three for a similar plan. It really made me wonder why Americans can’t come together and implement a system that is high quality and cost-efficient for everyone, like the rest of the industrialized world.

This is one of the major reasons I support Bernie Sanders. Not only has he been fighting for workers’ rights his entire life, he understands that healthy citizens are the foundation of a strong nation. America was a land of opportunity, but that cannot be so when people are crippled by heavy medical debts and have to crowdfund through GoFundMe in order to stay alive. In fact, the CEO of GoFundMe confirmed that one-third of campaigns are for health care expenses, making it one of the biggest health insurance systems in America.

From my involvement in the Bernie 2016 campaign to knocking on 1,500 doors for single payer ColoradoCare, I remain hopeful. We simply need to stand up and say enough is enough to a system that is built on greed. We need to help everyone see that a better system is very much possible. Vote for politicians who believe in people above profits. Vote for those who will work to create a world where all of us can stay healthy and seek medical care without worrying about going bankrupt.

As I write this article in 2019, six days after Senator Bernie Sanders announced his second presidential bid, I no longer live in a bubble and I no longer live in fears. I fell in love with so many everyday Americans who work so hard day in and day out for their loved ones, their children, and their communities.

The purpose of sharing my story is to share the perspective of a person who lived in both systems. This is why I stand proud and loud behind Bernie 2020. I ask you to join us in building a world where all of us can live a healthy and happy life into the future. This is how a strong nation is built. It’s up to all of us to create it together!

Eve is founder of Berdie Media Team and an entrepreneur who can not stand still, a born fighter against injustice and is raising a little revolutionary to change the world for the better.

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Post Author: Eve Chen

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