In the context of the furor over U.S. health care and the danger of extending coverage to illegal aliens, I thought I'd share my recent experience with the health care sytem in Taiwan.
I came down with a case of the flu--not awful, but unpleasant: sore throat, sneezing, minor ear infection, overall fatigue and even-more-than-usual crankiness. (My wife pointed out the last item.)
The next day, I went to a small, private ENT clinic that has a good reputation. Appointments aren't necessary, but, since I didn't bother to make one, I had to wait a while--maybe 20 minutes. When I got in to see the doctor, he gave me a thorough examination--asked about my medical history, schedule, sleep and eating habits, peered into the relevant orifices, checked my temperature, listened to my heart and lungs, the usual. I had a couple of questions, which he answered in detail.
As most clinics in Taiwan have an in-house pharmacy, after the consultation I waited about five minutes for my medication. Now, here's the best part of health care in Taiwan: for routine medical care, the flat fee for an examination plus medication is $4.50. Yes, that's U.S. dollars. Great, huh? (In case you're wondering, it's great for the Taiwanese, too; the cost of living in Taipei is about the same as in a mid-American city.)But there was just one problem: when I checked my wallet, I discovered that my national health insurance card was missing.
Sure, all citizens and residents here have excellent, almost-free health care. But what if a casual interloper, as I now appeared to be, wanted try to sponge off the system? The receptionist apologized, explaining that she understood my predicament, but, as an undocumented foreigner, I'd have to pay a very high fee. Nearly cringing in emarrassment (and I nearly cringing in fear), she laid the bill on the counter.
$15. Fifteen U.S. dollars. Thta's the flat fee for the ininsured. (But, she explained, if I find or replace my insurance card and bring it by the clinic within a week, I can get the excess $11.50 refunded.)
Fifteen dollar medical care for an alien, legal or illegal. For anyone. How is that possible? As my Taiwanese wife, a bit impatient with the silly question, explained: You're a human being, aren't you? They're doctors, aren't they? How could they turn you away just because you don't have a card?