On a Whim Wm's world travels

23 Mar 2005


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 1:44 pm

The continuing saga of drugs in NZ. Yesterday I asked our housemates (called flatmates here) for the name of their doctor. They both use a doctor whose office is about 3 blocks from where we live — very convenient! So I called the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon and got an appointment for the first thing this morning. Before I left the house this morning, I worry that they will probably want me to fill out all kinds of paperwork, so I get my address book, contact information for my doctor in the US, etc.

When I walk into the office, they ask me if I want to be treated as a “casual patient”. I say sure, and the next thing I know I’m in talking to the doctor. No paperwork. None. Nada. They already have my name from when I made the appointment over the phone, and that’s all they need. Wow.

So the next thing I worry about is that they will want to repeat all my lab tests and everything before they write me a prescription, but as they say here — “not a problem”! The doctor does check my blood pressure, and listens to my heart and lungs, but she is fine writing the prescription for me. I do have the prescription from my doctor in the US, after all. But it is hard for me to imagine a doctor in the US writing a prescription just like that — after all they could get sued if they don’t check me out completely themselves!

The main thing we have to do is figure out all the equivalent drugs. Drugs have different names in different countries, or slightly different drugs that do the same thing. So for all 3 of my drugs, we find equivalents. Two of them just weren’t available here, and the third (Lipitor, which I talked about in the last post) is actually available, but they don’t like to use it because there are equivalents that are cheaper and do just as well. I figure I’ll try out the equivalent. Just to be safe, I’ve sent an email back to my doctor in the US with the names of the new drugs I’ll be taking.

Twenty minutes later, I’m done. I pay for the visit using my debit card (called EFTPOS here). Total bill? NZ$52. And remember, I’m paying for it myself since I don’t have insurance here. I do have health insurance in the US, but to be honest all the paperwork I know I will have to go through just for US$38 probably won’t be worth it. When I lived in Canada, I had an injury and tried to get my insurance company back in the US to pay for it, and after days of phone calls I gave up. (I’m sure all of you reading this in the US have much nicer health insurance companies that never give you any hassles at all, right?)

Bottom line? The whole experience was easy, painless, fast. No defensive medicine. No reams of paperwork for the doctor, insurance company, etc. No long waits, either for an appointment or in the doctor’s office. I spent most of the time actually talking to the doctor. The practice of medicine is alive and well. Nice. The biggest problem was that I kept expecting there to be a problem. I was pleasantly surprised.

Those people in the US who are opposed to single payer health insurance should check out the situation here in NZ. I’ve talked to other people here in NZ, and they all seem to feel much better about health care than people I know in the US do. I’ve also heard that Australia has a similar system, and it works well. Why is the US the only major industrialized country without universal health coverage?


  1. Well, you are leaving out the part about hospitalization. If you need an operation, you may wait months (even years in some cases) to get treatment. And if you are pregnant? Good luck finding an OB…there are only a few for the entire country. Eveything is handled by midwives..and there aren’t enough of them either. Yet again, another story in the Dominion Post newspaper about an infant dying at birth born at home with a midwife and didn’t make it to the hospital in time. I’m just saying that money isn’t always the only factor to look at when you are discussing healthcare. My family and I are here for a year too…and I agree that the day to day health care is simple to get and good for getting generic drugs, but for anything major I am not so sure.

    Comment by Gerrie T. — 24 Sep 2005 @ 9:50 am

  2. I can’t say I’m an expert on the relative health care systems between the US and NZ, but here I am back in the US and I just had to wait 3 months to see a specialist for a consultation about a health problem I’m having. Meanwhile, my health insurance has twice turned down coverage of a routine doctor’s visit and lab tests (in the last year alone), necessitating multiple phone calls trying to get it straightened out. In one case, it took so long to straighten out a bill that my health insurance was supposed to pay that the bill got sent to a collection agency! Plus, my health insurance is going up 15% this year (yet again). And when I finally got to the specialist (mentioned above) they had me spend half an hour filling out forms that had absolutely nothing to do with why I was there (defensive medicine, I suppose). Plus the specialist’s office told me twice that I absolutely had to be there half an hour before my scheduled appointment “because our doctors run on time”. Well, I was the first appointment of the morning, and they still didn’t come to get me for my appointment until half an hour after it was scheduled (no explanation offered, of course).

    I’m tired of the “you have to wait months for an operation” line used to scare people about single-payer health insurance. I know so many people here in the US who have had to wait months for operations. Give me some hard facts about availability of medical care and I’ll listen. Until then I’ll stick with my original conclusion — for me, dealing with the medical profession in NZ was overwhelmingly more pleasant, professional, and downright less painful than my experiences here in the US. I have supposedly the best health insurance available where I live in the US, but they screw up about 40% of the time. Note that I have not said anything about money yet — the fact that it is far far less expensive for health care in NZ is a bonus.

    Comment by wm — 25 Sep 2005 @ 4:47 pm

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