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Following our arrival in Tuscany on the first leg of our journey toward a long stay in India, our extended family had some medical problems, one of them serious.
Less seriously, I ran out of a medication I've been taking. More seriously, my wife, Peggy, contracted a virulent case of poison ivy. Most serious of all, Carla, my daughter's au pair from Mexico, came down with appendicitis. Each of these incidents highlighted the superiority of the Italian medical system to what we have in the United States, and the direction we must take to improve our healthcare procedures.
Begin with my running out of pills.... I tried to get my prescription filled before leaving the States. Since we'd be gone for nearly five months, and I need to take one pill each day, I decided that I'd buy 180 pills from my local Rite Aid. My doctor gave me the "script" without any trouble. However, my pharmacist informed me that I needed my insurance company's O.K. to cover the cost. That would be about $100 for 30 pills, with my co-pay being $8.00.
So, one month before leaving home, I phoned my insurance company. After three phone calls by me and a couple by my pharmacist--all preceded by lengthy and repetitious "conversations" with an automated responder-- permission was granted.
However, when I actually tried to obtain the pills just before departure, neither I nor my pharmacist was able to do so. There was no record of the previously granted permission. So the process had to start all over again, and I had no time to spare.
More phone calls.... More conversations with machines.... Lengthy arguments with "representatives" and their supervisors.... More than an hour wasted.... In the end, permission refused.
By contrast, when I arrived in Tuscany, I had no trouble getting the prescription filled at the local pharmacy. After complimenting my Italian, the pharmacist simply asked, "How many boxes do you want?"
"How much will they cost?" I asked.
"Six dollars a box," came the reply.
"I'll take two for now," I answered.
I gave the pharmacist the money. She gave me my two boxes of pills. She never asked to see a prescription. I went on my way wondering about the $102 dollars I had somehow "saved" in that transaction.
And then there's the case of my wife's poison ivy. She came down with that after doing some yard work just before we left our home in Berea, Kentucky. It was pretty severe--so much so, in fact, that her arms swelled and the rash that covered both of them had spread to her face, neck and torso.
So, there in Tuscany, off to the pharmacy she went. She obtained some anti-rash skin cream there. When that proved ineffective, she visited the walk-in clinic attached to the pharmacy. She joined the line of about ten people waiting to see the doctor about their various ailments.
When her turn came, Peggy was examined, and the doctor prescribed some pills--two different kinds. They were purchased at the neighboring pharmacy for a total of about $20.00.
Problem solved. No cost for the doctor's visit. No insurance cards or discussion of money. No phone calls to the insurance company, its machines, "representatives," and supervisors. No paper work. Hmm....
Carla came down with appendicitis just before we arrived in Panzano, the small town in the Chianti region of Tuscany where we were staying.
After experiencing severe stomach pains, she went to the pharmacy's walk-in clinic, was quickly diagnosed and whisked off to the hospital in Firenze by ambulance.
They operated immediately. Before admitting her to the operating theater, the administration asked only to see Carla's passport, for identification purposes. Afterwards, she was hospitalized for three full days. She was released with a simple "arrivederci" and an appointment to return in a week's time to remove her stitches. Once again, there was no discussion of money or payment. And, according to Carla, her treatment was top-notch.
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