Derelict in my duties, here’s a column instead

Hey gang, remember me? I used to write posts on this blog every now and again.

Unfortunately I’m mentally and physically incapacitated after last week/weekend’s Rhode Island Seafood Festival, which I’ll be writing about later in the week for sure.

Until then, here’s a meager piece offering in the form of my column from Sunday.

Parts of it will look familiar, given it’s based off of a post I wrote a couple weeks ago, but it’s got that central Maine-centric twist for newspaper readers. It’s probably pretty relevant for green card immigrants too, I’d wager.

As always, thanks for reading!

Is there a doctor in the house? Anywhere?

One of the tough realities of being a U.S. permanent resident — health care — has finally hit home, writes Adrian Crawford.

A couple of weeks ago, for really the first time since I immigrated to the U.S., I found myself feeling utterly lost and completely out of my depth.

Compared to the issue I was trying to deal with, the other unfamiliar elements of life here — driving on the right side of the road, shoveling snow, using pounds and ounces instead of the metric system — all seemed like child’s play.

I must have made 10 phone calls in the space of a morning, and when I didn’t get someone’s voicemail, I got either a confusing rundown of the hoops I had to jump through to be seen by the right physician or a vague date “a few weeks away” when I might get in. Maybe.

All I could think was, “It’s lucky I’m not dying over here.”

It was frustrating to the point that I went through a few minutes of questioning whether I’d done the right thing in making the move here, given it’s likely that at some stage in the next however-many years that I’ll need some sort of medical treatment.

A few Sundays ago, in this space, I gave a couple of examples of some of the questions I’ve faced, coming from the dangerous land Down Under, since I got here.

Those were all pretty light-hearted and managed to elicit laughs from at least two readers, who’d each asked me one of the questions in jest.

But there’s another query that I get with reasonable frequency that’s on a slightly more serious note, and one that’s generally brought up with more than a pinch of incredulity.

“Don’t you have free health care out there?”

Well, kind of. We have a public health system that’s largely subsidized by government. Because of that, I was always sort of complacent about health insurance until a couple of years ago when I bought coverage not to protect the one body I have, but because it was a tax break.

Healthcare — and the cost of it — is one of the more “grown-up” factors that I didn’t give much thought to before I moved out here. The one thing I did come in with was the knowledge that if I were to get sick or injured here to the extent that I needed hospitalization, it was going to cost me. Big time. Ever since my first vacation out here, in 2008, I’ve made sure to come prepared with travel insurance.

I remember saying to a friend of mine back in 2010, when we were planning a trip to New York and Las Vegas together, that one of the few expenses I had left was to pay a couple hundred bucks for travel insurance.

His response was something along the lines of, “Why the hell do you get travel insurance?”

Answer: Peace of mind. I’d much rather throw a couple of hundred bucks at an insurance company before my trip than try to find six figures’ worth of medical costs while I’m laying in a hospital bed after being hit by a car or breaking a bone doing something stupid while drunk (a distinct possibility).

I spent last fall in Colorado, and every single person I met asked whether I was there for the skiing, or whether I was going to hit the slopes, and the winter-sports line of questioning continued once I got to Maine and found myself hip-deep in snow.

The answer, both in Colorado and here, was: “Heck no. I’m not insured and I can’t afford a $30,000 broken leg.”

In any case, I wasn’t about to see just how good my temporary travelers’ insurance coverage was by chancing my luck on the slopes skiing for the first time in my life. I can barely walk around without injuring myself in that weather — I definitely don’t want to try hurtling down a mountain in it.

When I first started work, the HR team gave me a bunch of options for coverage, all of which looked to me like it was written in hieroglyphics. HMOs, PPOs, co-pays. I barely understood what I was doing with my health insurance back home, let alone when it’s in another language here.

I rang the HR team, a tad embarrassed to be asking what I should go for, and blaming it on my from-awayness, and their response was, “Don’t feel bad — it’s not because you’re Australian. Most of the American staff members don’t have a clue either.” Oh. Good.

Eventually I managed to weasel my way into an appointment, and the only thing more nerve-wracking than the check-up was when I got the bill at the end. After the nurse explained my options for payment, I was sweating like I’d run a marathon.

The only marathon, though, was the phone call I made to my insurance provider the next day to get a clearer picture on what I had to pay and what they’d cover. Amazingly, after half an hour of miscommunication on both ends, the agent on the phone told me that it had all been settled and I didn’t owe a cent. I actually laughed out loud in relief.

So maybe I had a guardian angel looking out for me on this one. I’m hoping he or she will have my back the next time I need medical attention.

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