Hong Kong Healthcare: a firsthand report

The ankle I sprained 4 months ago swells up all like an old lady’s every time I walk on it for over an hour. (Good luck being in Hong Kong and not walking everywhere!) A know-nothing friend proclaimed “it’s just water!”  STFU, friend. That makes no sense. Even if it is “just water”, a pint of it isn’t supposed to gather in your joints for no reason.

Our office manager told me about “Quality Health Care Medical Centre”, which sounds tragically generic. (Why not something memorable like “Head to Toe Health” or “Fancypants Medical”?) With my newfound freedom from work, I finally sat down to make an appointment.

11:15am Monday  I finally roll out of bed, call the place, tell them something’s been wrong with my ankle for awhile. The receptionist says, “We can see you at noon if you can make it, otherwise you’ll have to wait till 3. ”

45 minutes later:  The doctor pokes and prods around my ankle but nothing really hurts. He says he can’t determine anything unless I have an MRI, which costs $4,500HK ($575 US.) The doctor visit was $250HK ($32 US.)

I went back to the hotel for some light research to find that $575 may be quite a deal. I found this table of MRI costs around the US:

Plans vary quite a lot in the US, but if a plan in Omaha covered 80% of the MRI, it would still cost $500 out-of-pocket. I read this great article about why healthcare overall is more expensive in the US than anywhere else, as well as this one from just 2 months ago.

I certainly don’t have $575 lying around to just burn. But my ankle problem doesn’t seem to be going away, and MRI prices in Singapore appear to be slightly higher than in HK (starting at $900.) A year from now this $575 won’t even matter anymore, but my ankle could still be swelling up. So I decided to bite the bullet.

Guess when the next available MRI appointment was – the next morning!

10am Tuesday Earmuffs on, I’m lying with my feet inside enormous GE MRI machine.  An MRI sounds like a machine gun had tons of kids with various sirens and alarms and each kid takes its turn to speak for exactly 20 seconds. I don’t know how, but I fell asleep. Afterwards, the technician complimented me on how still I was.

4pm Friday The doctor calls to tell me I have tears in two ligaments. And while I don’t need surgery, I could use some physical therapy. (And I need to not walk much for a few months.)

10am Saturday I pick up my MRI films (they’re too big for my suitcase!) and make my physical therapy appointment for this Wednesday! (It’ll be $57.)

In a nutshell: In 9 days flat, Hong Kong-uninsured** me went through the entire process to figure out what’s wrong with my ankle – from initial appointment, to MRI, to physical therapy – for a grand total of $664. (Less than US-insured me would have paid in the States.)

Here’s the office outside, the MRI place, me with my slides, and the long-version (for you Latin readers.)

Coincidentally, this same week, my friend in the US, posted this about her health ins headache:

…and a friend who just moved to Germany 2 weeks ago posted on her blog after an ER visit for her daughter’s broken elbow:

In the US, I have a HDHP + HSA, which I love, but the deductible is quite high, so I would have paid more out-of-pocket than $664. Here’s the article which led to my choosing an HDHP, rather than a plan through my employer.

In the US I’ve been conditioned to expect long timelines (appointments weeks out), high costs (even with insurance), and never knowing for sure how much insurance will cover. Costs and plans vary quite a bit by individual, facility, city, etc. I was pleasantly surprised at how simply and smoothly everything went this week. Best of all, I know I’m all paid up!

Quality Health Care Medical Centre • 1/F, 303 Des Voeux Road, Central  • Sheung Wan, Hong Kong •  tel: 2975-2328

**For all practical purposes, I’m uninsured. I have a travel insurance policy I got here through “Travel Guard” for things like emergencies and hospital stays, but for a regular, boring doctor visit, I’m self-pay. (Also, my US policy is useless outside the US.)

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