American Health – A Profit Making Scam

We arrived in Los Angeles in August 1979 to take up residence for a year and for me to do a year’s teaching exchange. I came with my wife and three small children. First port of call was the doctor’s because my daughter had picked up a skin infection in Washington. The doctor checked out our insurance and registered us. We were then charged a large sum for a tube of cream and consultation – a good deal more than I would have paid at the chemist.

We spent two days in the central government buildings applying for a J2 visa to enable my wife to work. The bureaucracy was horrendous.

On the first day of sitting in lines that didn’t move our three children were playing in the corridor. My younger three year old son suddenly threw himself down on the ground screaming in agony. We comforted him and tried to check what the problem but couldn’t find anything. After a little while he recovered and was fine. We were bemused but kids are kids.

On the second day, as we were leaving, he repeated this. We undressed him to discover he had a bulging groin with a distended hernia. Being a biologist I was fully aware of the dangers of such an event. A strangulating hernia cuts of the blood supply to the trapped part of the gut which dies. That is major.

We rushed him out to the car and straight to the doctor’s because we knew where that was.

I rushed in carrying my screaming child and shouting to the doctor that we had an emergency strangulating hernia. The doctor took on a supercilious tone. Who was I to diagnose such an event. My son proceeded, on cue, to projectile vomit all over him (the best bit of the whole affair) which prompted him to take it seriously.

He examined my son and ascertained that yes he did have a strangulating hernia. He then proceeded, while my little boy was still writhing about and screaming, to check his eyes, ears, nose and throat and examine the rest of his body. He then gave him a penicillin shot for a minor ear infection while we stood around in a panic not understanding what was going on. What had all this to do with the hernia? We later discovered that he’s quickly appraised that this was an insurance job and made over $1000 dollars for his various examinations (all itemised) and treatment – while my little boy was in agony.

When he was through he directed us to take him in the car to the hospital. In a panic we rushed out and drove him in. The hernia was promptly dealt with by manipulation to prevent strangulation. The surgeon asked why the doctor had not dealt with it at the surgery? It was an easy standard procedure. By this time I was about to go back and punch his lights out.

My son was operated on that night to fix the hernia. The insurance picked up the bill for his operation and the consultation and treatment in the doctor’s surgery! Every suture was itemised. It cost thousands. Great service.

By the end of our first week in the States, due to the cost of the operation, our insurance cover reduced to $3300 to cover the whole family for the year. We couldn’t afford to take out more so we put it to the back of our minds and hoped that nothing serious was going to happen.

It didn’t.

But if it had???????

It was obvious to me that the Health Care we received put profit before people. It was all about money. That doctor scammed us and didn’t give a shit about us or my son. We were a cash cow. He was incompetent, arrogant and callous. The hospital were great but they had made a fortune out of our misfortune. If we had not been insured or our insurance was not sufficient?? I’m sure he wouldn’t have been operated on. We’d have had to take our chances.

You’re OK if you can pay!!!

This is the system that the Tories would love for us to adopt! It puts money in the pockets of their chums!!

14 thoughts on “American Health – A Profit Making Scam

  1. I just happened to be scooting around looking for something else and this popped up so I read it. First for me as I’ve generally no time at all for such trivial pursuits as a blog. What a nice relaxed life you must have to have such adequate time.
    Interesting opinion here, but thankfully for us all it is only that and not the reality.

    I have dual-nationality and worked in emergency plastic surgery. My family spent many years living between UK and USA, and at some point, too, we had our young children’s health issues to contend with. What immediately strikes me is that maybe you really hadn’t planned or organised anywhere near well enough or perhaps fully understood the US health insurance system.
    Maybe that was down to lack of information, but I don’t think so, as any US Consulate’s office can provide all you needed to know.
    If this was an official teaching exchange, why wasn’t your family health insurance completely covered? If it wasn’t what were you doing going to another country with three young children without sufficient insurance? That’s a never-do.
    As you state clearly, you knew your son had a hernia problem so why did you go to a doctor’s surgery and not a hospital A&E? Wouldn’t A&E be first base?
    Had you taken note of where your local A&E was, as it seems not by your description of events.
    I was struck somewhat by you being questioned at hospital as to the actions of a doctor from another surgery. That’s most unusual for you to be questioned on medical procedures likes that. Are you entirely certain about that? I have doubts.
    You learned a very hard lesson on how not to take a family of small children abroad. That’s a reflective situation of anywhere abroad, outwith the EU. Even some EU countries still charge consultation fees for doctors and they all charge for prescriptions.
    It seems that you were just too blase and too used to free NHS.
    Your wife should have arranged her work permit visa long before arrival, because what happened there was the authorities immediately treated her as an illegal alien which is what caused the delay, they were checking her out that she was legal to work.

    Thankfully, it all worked out fine for you all in the end. But I’m sure a lesson was learned.

    I would disagree entirely with any correlation between current government NHS vis a vis US. I’d say you are greatly mistaken and would highlight the high numbers of medical conferences on an international level that we regularly host in UK. We have increased the numbers of study-teaching hospitals and specialist environments and you must believe that UK are world leaders in many medical research fields. The government is serious with continued expansion of such fields and what you suggest simply does not exist. The current government has taken on-board for future planning committee purposes some of the top people in the profession and it’s a poor mouth that says Tories are only out to put money in the pockets of their chums, or however you described it. This is entirely untrue and an insult to many scrupulously earnest people involved. I can only hope you try and find out for yourself and maybe at a more diligent level as it appears you planned this statement about as well as when you had first planned to take your young family to US!

    All the best,
    Dr. Timothy S. Jenkins MD, FACS (retired)

  2. Dr Jenkins – The whole of our exchange was handled by the British Consulate in tandem with the American consulate. I was awarded a Fullbright exchange scholarship. All the medical side were organised through the British and American consulate. We assumed they knew what they were doing and were largely ignorant of the vagaries of the American Health system. My wife could not gain a visa while in the UK. We had to apply once we were in the States.
    We had only been in Los Angeles two days and had not yet orientated ourselves to find where the emergency centres were. We had been to the doctors so knew where that was. In the panic that ensued we went to where we thought we could get help.
    I totally disagree with you as regards the NHS. My son is a nurse practitioner and we have all seen both creeping privatisation and a pay-freeze and cuts over nine years. It has created major problems with pay, an exodus of staff and difficulty in recruitment. There are cuts and shortages that have created workload problems, burn-out and low morale.
    I have huge regard for the NHS but do not for one minute believe it is safe in the hands of Tories.

  3. Whew! That was a long response. To be honest I think it is difficult dealing with any health issue when you are first in a new country. You were unlucky to have to have such an incident. I have just read that Spain does cover emergency health care for all but other issues e.g just needing some antibiotics for a tooth abscess, may be more difficult for us when we Brexit with a no deal. Not sure anyone is interested in sorting out problems that affect real people.

    1. Arriving in the States with 3 little kids was quite an experience. We weren’t used to thinking American. I couldn’t quite believe how the health system worked. I guess we’d been spoilt by the NHS.
      I think that Brexit is in such a mess nobody knows what is going to happen. Fancy pressing the button before knowing what you were doing. Utter madness. I just hopes it works out well.

  4. Oh, they would have done the surgery, then you would have gotten a huge bill with lots of red tape to work through. I think health care the world over sucks. I talked to Anna on Friday and she’s having such a hard time find a doc to take her seriously. She’s not well at all. Ageism is all a part of that mix, too, I believe.

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