One of the biggest differences between living in America and living in Europe is the way healthcare is handled. Obamacare, or The Affordable Care Act (it’s actual, legal name), has been all over the news, even in Europe. I’ve tried to explain the American healthcare system to my European co-workers but with little success – they don’t understand the concept of healthcare being tied to your job, they don’t understand the concept of being “uninsured” and they certainly don’t understand someone going bankrupt because of one serious injury or illness.
But this isn’t a political post. It’s more… observational. You see, I recently had my first extensive experience with the Irish healthcare system. In February I was betrayed by a favorite pair of clogs during a weekend in London and got a nasty case of plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Thus began a seven month odyssey through the Irish Healthcare system.
The healthcare system over here is not an easy one to figure out. I asked several of my native Dublin friends to explain to me how it works and I got a lot of blank stares and shrugs. So, I had to figure out a lot of things by trial and error – lots of error.
I went to my General Practitioner first (whom I really like) and she suggested some conservative approaches. I was happy to give these a try but when they proved less than successful I decided I needed to see a specialist, so I went to a podiatrist. On my second visit to this podiatrist’s office, I’d been dealing with this PF for nearly 6 months and wanted to try some more aggressive measures. This is when I realized that podiatrists in Ireland aren’t actually doctors and can’t really do much of anything. After 6 months of dealing with an injury that was starting to seriously impact my life, this not-doctor prescribed… epsom salts. Yeah, so…
It was very frustrating trying to find a specialist who could actually help me. I have private insurance as well as the government coverage but there was no database of specialists that I could access in order to find a doctor. I googled with no luck. Finally, I called my GP’s office again to see if they could recommend anyone (note – I had done this before and was referred to another podiatrist. Um, no thanks.). They recommended the sports medicine specialist who’s office is TWO DOORS DOWN FROM MY GP!!! Seriously, they couldn’t have told me this 6 months ago?
But once I got in to see the actual doctor who was an actual specialist in my kind of injury, things started happening. He saw me right away, sent me for an MRI to confirm the injury, treated me with a cortisone shot, and referred me to another specialist to get fitted for custom orthotics. All of this happened within the space of two weeks. Once I found the doctor who could help me things progressed very quickly and very smoothly.
So now, having been through this, I have formed certain opinions about the Irish Healthcare System:
WHAT I LIKE:
- It’s open to everyone. You don’t need private insurance in order to get treated and you aren’t going to go bankrupt getting said treatment.
- Private insurance is very affordable. Being American, the concept of being uninsured made me nervous so I opted for a private policy that costs me only €78 per month.
- Out of pocket costs are not astronomical – if I hadn’t had private insurance and didn’t want to wait to get my MRI it would only have cost me €200 out-of-pocket.
- The clinics, hospitals and facilities are all top-notch and state-of-the-art – not sure if this is true for all of Dublin, but it is for the places I went to.
- Absolutely everyone is so darn nice. And seriously, being nice goes a long, long way. I’d never had an MRI before and was a tad nervous but the lovely people at the clinic put me at ease right away.
- I get 20% of any costs I do have to pay back from the government – this includes the costs of GP visits, prescriptions, orthotics, anything except over-the-counter medications.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE:
- You have do to a LOT of legwork to find the right doctor. I wasn’t able to find any centralized database of doctors and specialists – not from my insurance or from the government. I suppose it may exist but if it does, I couldn’t find it.
- It costs €55-60 for a doctor visit – that’s across the board, insured or not. And that is a tad expensive.
- A lot of stuff gets “lost in translation”. This is more on me than the healthcare system, but I could have saved myself a lot of money if I’d known what podiatrist actually meant in Ireland.
So there you have it – the Irish Healthcare System, sort of, I think.