Medical Insurance When In Thailand
I am Canadian, and my wife is Thai. We tend to spend 1 – 3 months in Thailand each year. Because we both very much have "lin jaw-ra-kee", <The tongue of a lizard – Stick> we are quite adventurous when it comes to food, having a great time trying out new restaurants, and we very much enjoy sampling "local food" when are on our travels. However my immunity is not quite as developed as my wife's so I always carry some Ciproflaxen tablets with me (easy enough to get from any pharmacy, but should be taken only with due care and consideration, and according to the correct regimen), to take care of the minor bacterial stomach problems that arise a few times each trip. By the way I NEVER eat som dtam in Thailand after experiencing frequent stomach problems after eating it (given that Thai people often get sick eating this dish – it's a bit of a no brainer to give it a pass unless you are 100% sure of the preparation, washing of utensils, and safety of the ingredients – and yes, I am no pussy, I only like the taste of it with either plaa raa or buu).
This year was no exception on the stomach troubles side, even avoiding eating som dtam, but after playing water at Songkran in Patong this year, I must have ingested some dirty water in all the mayhem going on. Two days later I was in bad shape with a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, aches all over including my kidneys, diarrhea, and of course some sharp stomach pain. I started on Cipro again, but it clearly wasn't going to cut it all on its own. Off to Bangkok Hospital in Phuket we went. I indeed had medical insurance from a large company in North America, and the administration people at the hospital showed me a rate card and confirmed that they had checked my insurance and that I was covered for a private room. I have no complaints at all about the medical treatment I received. Malaria was ruled out and it appeared to be gastroenteritis, although the temperature could have been indicative of Dengue fever. Overnight I bounced back quite nicely under their treatment (IV fluids and some medications), and my temperature was back to normal by the morning.
The payment process was interesting however. The hospital and my insurance company were playing a few games over authorizing payment (hospital wanted a signed guarantee of payment before releasing me, and my insurance company wasn't about to commit to anything). I would up having to pay by visa, about 45,000 baht (discounted from over 50,000) for the 24 hour stay in order to get discharged, and had to hope my insurance company would cover it. (A few days later they did call me back in Thailand and confirmed they would), which was a great test of their willingness to assume responsibility. Interestingly enough, another Thai friend of ours spent a full week in the very same hospital after a miscarriage, and paid about the same price for a week as I did for one day. Dual pricing at its best for sure…so don't have any doubts that foreigners are seen as great business for the hospitals in terms of keeping a cash flow going to support the infrastructure required to keep a decent hospital running.
Despite the tendency to over-medicate, to date I personally have found the actual medical services to be quite good in the large cities (take care if you are not in the big cities). One time I went into Bumrungrad in Bangkok for a similar stomach problem (prior to finding out about Cipro). I was shocked to find myself in an exam room being attended to by a doctor and several nurses in less than a minute of entering the ER (unlike my native country where walking into emergency is literally a tedious wait for several hours at best normally). That time at Bumrungrad I just flashed my insurance card and I actually never paid a baht… However, there are few if any safety nets in Thailand, so be sure to have good and reliable medical insurance, otherwise you will need the cash your wallet or a credit card.
I don't have medical insurance. Some would could this errant, but I would say it's a gamble – and so far I am well ahead.
I try my best to avoid going to the doctor at all and my last visit was a few years back. Eat well, exercise, reduce drinking and generally lead a healthy lifestyle and I see no reason to go and see a doctor.