Chapter 33: Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: How to Balance the Medical Budget
|shapes a doctor wears. At first we hail the angel; then the god, if he prevail. Last, when the cure complete, he asks his fee, a hideous demon he appears
Being ill can prove to be expensive! Present-day medical tests and the subsequent treatment cost considerable money. In the face of spiraling health care costs, you may end up spending a small fortune on your medical care. Being unwell is bad enough, but having to shell out an enormous amount to get better is like adding insult to injury!
Most of us are hesitant to talk about money with our doctor. There are many reasons for this discomfort. For one, we prefer to think of our doctor as being above mundane commercial matters; after all, we are entrusting our life to him, and mentally, most of us still put our doctor on a pedestal! Many doctors are also uncomfortable talking about money to their patients. Consequently, this topic is often not discussed at all! However, do remember that even though medicine is a profession, it is also a business; after all, the doctor does need to earn his living.
Patients are often reluctant to discuss medical expenses with doctors. However, they must remember that it is their hard-earned money which is being spent; they just cant afford to shy away from this topic. Doctors are also sometimes vague about money matters. Therefore, it becomes very important to obtain specific figures before undertaking any form of treatment.
Often times, your doctor may not even know the precise costs of the tests and medicines he prescribes. Therefore, it is worthwhile bringing this aspect to his attention, if you discover that doctors methods of testing and treatment are exorbitant. He may be able to suggest less expensive alternatives.
Some hospitals and doctors are very creative about their billing, and this creativity could prove to be very destructive to you! Some doctors bend the rules (and themselves) and take cash payments under the table; others demand large amounts right in the middle of the operation, claiming that the surgery has (suddenly) turned out to be much more complicated than they expected. Some hospitals gratuitously add an arbitrary surcharge to your total bill. Individual patients can do little to fight such shady malpractices, but these few doctors end up tarnishing the entire profession. To avoid such pitfalls, you should refuse to be cowed down by pressure tactics and should get an accurate estimate of the total (all-inclusive!) medical expenses before going ahead! You should get the specific breakdown for each of the procedures, preferably in writing. For example, in the case of surgery, find out exactly what the quoted figure covers: does it include the surgeons fees, the assistants charges, anesthesia, operation theatre charges, hospitalization expenses, post-operative care, and follow-up visits? Often, what is deftly excluded can add up to a pretty tidy sum! One has to be especially alert during surgery and hospitalization, where hidden expenses can lead to your coughing up much more than you had bargained for! You also need to calculate precisely your total expenses, not just the medical costs. You should remember to include travelling costs; lodging and boarding costs if you are from out-of-town; and the costs incurred due to time taken off from work.
Despite galloping costs, medical care in India is still far cheaper than in the West. In India, doctors professional fees are much less, and medicines cost a small fraction of what they do in the West, thanks to present-day Indian patent laws. However, when compared to the annual income of an average middle-class citizen, medical expenses can be considerable, and a serious illness can easily wipe out an individuals lifetimes savings!
The pertinent question in this context would be: What can you do to keep your medical expenses down? The sanest advise, of course, would be to keep yourself healthy, so that you never need to go to a doctor in the first place! Traditional Indian wisdom is replete with simple but extremely useful therapies such as yoga, meditation and nature therapy, which can help you keep the doctor away far more efficiently than an apple a day can!
Nevertheless, if you do need medical care, there is quite a lot you can do to make sure your bills do not become astronomical -- following the guidelines in this book can help considerably! Some other useful tips are as follows:
It would be prudent on your part to discuss your financial concerns with your doctor! Many doctors can and do reduce their fees for patients who face problems with regard to payments. Also, remember that you will get exactly the same quality of medical care in a first class deluxe room in a private hospital, as you will in the general ward, but you will end up paying about ten times more in the former case! Dont forget that the government does provide highly subsidized medical care through its vast network of hospitals. While the queues are long and the wait can be interminable, the quality of medical care is usually very good, and, at that price, its a fantastic bargain!