Right before our summer vacation to the Philippines, Ryan had to go and break his finger. He was playing football with one of our friends, and misjudged a low catch, only to jam his ring finger and break the joint. Luckily he was smart enough to take off his tungsten wedding ring before his finger got too swollen. The next day, he begrudgingly agreed to go to the doctor. Sure enough, it was broken.
Before coming to Korea, the majority of the time if we were sick or injured, we would just deal with it and not go to the doctor. We had no health insurance, no savings to fall back on in times of emergency, and we were living nearly paycheck to paycheck. Doctors in the states are just too expensive for low income families and young adults.
Ryan after badly hurting his arm. We made a homemade sling out of a t-shirt.
Stephanie after getting sliced open by a shell at the lake. Ryan gallantly made a wrap from the bottom part of his shirt. Should have gone and gotten stitches, but just super glued it together. She still has a scar.
However, Korea isn’t that way at all. In fact, nowadays we go to the doctor and don’t dread the final bill. As English teachers, we have health insurance through our employer that covers 50% of all necessary medical treatments. Even so, the healthcare in Korea is so cheap that the insurance isn’t really needed. The following are some of our experiences thus far with Korean Healthcare.
Every ESL teacher must have a health check before finalizing their contracts with their schools. This is to make sure you are healthy and fit for life abroad. We have done a couple of health checks so far, and they pretty much check you for everything.
- Eye exam
- Blood work
- X Ray
- Dental exam
- Drug screening (urine test)
All of this in Gangnam, Seoul, one of the most expensive places in Korea, was around $60. An EKG back home without insurance will generally be at least $500.
Back home, you would likely go see your family doctor for basic exams/tests. Since Korea is so affordable, most people just go see a specialist. Sore throat? Ear, nose, and throat doctor. Possible broken finger? Bone specialist. My recent visit to the ENT cost me 8,000 won (appr. $8), 4,000 for the visit and 4,000 for the antibiotics, mouth gargle, and pain pills. WHAT?!
How Korea packages their medicine
As you may already know, Ryan recently got LASIK eye surgery in Korea! We decided to go to one of the most reputable place in Korea, so we expected it to be a bit more expensive. Also, because Ryan’s cornea is so thin, they had to cut his eye using a laser instead of a blade, which cost extra. Total cost for both eyes was 1,600,000 won (appr. $1,500). In the states, you will most likely be paying around $2,000 PER EYE. There are cheaper places we have heard about in Seoul that charge around 800,000 won.
Not to mention how quick this all happened. We got to the hospital, Ryan had an eye exam, consultation, and then immediately had the surgery and we were out of there in 2 hours. A quick 15 minute check up the next morning and he had brand new peepers!
Many people are coming to Korea for medical tourism because of how cheap the surgeries are. You can even get a one year visa to stay in Korea for medical tourism! Crazy.
A broken finger
Ryan needed to have an x-ray at the bone specialist to see if it was in fact broken. Afterwards, the doctor expressed concerned that he may have also torn his ligaments in his finger and said he needed an ultrasound. Ryan immediately reverted back to, “Oh no! Too much money. Don’t do itttttt!” way of thinking. He told the doctor he didn’t want the ultrasound because he was concerned about the price. The doctor patted him on the shoulder and said, “This is important. Don’t worry about the cost.”
So he got the ultrasound. No torn ligaments. Once we got the bill, we saw that the doctor had already deducted 80,000 won ($80) for the ultrasound. WOW. The entire bill ended up being less than 16,000 won ($16).
Two years ago I had a medical problem where I needed a few tests run including an ultrasound and an x-ray. The total bill was over $2,000. I had to spend 6 months talking to the hospital about my financial problem and applying for a deduction to the bill. They eventually granted me a 90% discount, however it took so long to finally work out as well as a mountain of paperwork proving my financial status.
Some people bring up the fact that because the medical treatment is so cheap, doctors simply try to see as many patients as possible in order to make more money. This sometimes leads to a “5 minute diagnosis” which has not always been accurate. Many doctors also practice holistic medicine over modern medicine.
Regardless, we no longer fear going to the doctor or getting sick. No more super glued wounds and homemade slings.