Monday, March 13, 2017

Lesson learned: Don't have a baby in Australia pt. 1

I mean, it's not like we don't understand how biology works, but we were a little surprised when I got pregnant a few months ago. Pregnancy certainly wasn't high on our list of plans when we first moved to Australia and purchased the health insurance required to get our visas. But boy should we have looked closer into all the logistics and coverage because we are kicking ourselves now!

We were well aware that Australia has a socialized healthcare system, and a pretty good one from what we'd been told. When we signed up for our insurance, we were told that our insurance card would serve as a medicare card (what they call the ID the citizens use to get access to the public healthcare), we would just need to go to doctors that work with the medicare system. So essentially we could go to any public hospital or any doctors office that advertised that it would do "bulk billing."

We're relatively healthy people, so we didn't make use of the insurance until I got pregnant and I found out that public patients have to get a doctor referral to the maternity ward at a hospital in order to see an OBGYN when pregnant. I found a general practitioner (GP) down the street from our apartment that advertised bulk billing and made an appointment.

Here is where I learned one of the more annoying cultural quirks of Australians: They hate being on the phone. I can understand this in the age of text messaging, but WHEN YOU WORK IN A CALL CENTER OR AS A RECEPTIONIST YOUR LITERAL JOB IS TO BE ON THE PHONE! When I called to make the GP appointment, I was barely able to give the woman my full name before she was trying to hang up on me.

"Wait! I'm not an Australian citizen, so do I need to bring documentation to the appointment," I asked as I imagined the receiver quickly descending back onto the base.

"Do you have insurance?"


"Bring your insurance card. Goodbye."

So imagine my frustration when I arrived and she had not made note that I was not a citizen ("What do you mean you don't have a medicare card?!" has become the most repeated phrase in my pregnancy) and therefore I could not be seen by the doctor. She dismissed me with a wave of the hand, as if I was going to be like, "Aw shucks. Welp. I'll just give birth at home unassisted, then."

"But you said on the phone that I just needed to bring my insurance card."

"Why didn't you say you had insurance?!"

" didn't...Um, I guess I didn't think of it?" No need to piss off the woman who stood between me and the doctor I needed to get to an OBGYN. I handed over my insurance card.

"What is this?" she said with a sneer. Literally a sneer, I'm not exaggerating!

"It's my insurance card."

"We do not work with this insurance. Goodbye."

This woman was a piece of work. Bedside manner was not a key selection criteria in her job description. I was starting to get mad at this point because if she had spent more than four seconds on the phone with me when I'd called to make the appointment we could have cleared all this up and I could be taking the day off from work to go to a doctor that DID work with my insurance!

We finally established that if I wanted to see the doctor that day I would have to pay the full fee.

"Well I guess I don't have much of a choice, then, do I?" I snarked back.

She looked up in surprise, "You're going to pay?!"

What, did she think I was just going to be like, "Well thanks anyway, bye!" At this point I was 7 weeks along and still hadn't had any blood work to officially confirm the pregnancy and see if I had any deficiencies or anything! I braced myself for an exorbitant fee.

"Fifty dollars, please."  ...maybe there's something to this government subsidized healthcare thing!

I was feeling very vulnerable and frustrated at this point so I paid the fee with tears in my eyes because this woman was being so unnecessarily rude and sat down with a huff as I waited for the doctor.

He called me back, I explained that I was pregnant, that it was my second pregnancy, that I had miscarried around this same point last time, that I knew I was pregnant because I had taken 4 at home tests, "But that's why I'm here. You're the doctor, so I'm looking for you to confirm the suspicions," I tried to joke.

He didn't think it was funny.

He shoved a plastic cup in my hand and directed me down the hallway to the bathroom. I had yet to make eye contact with the man because he had yet to look at me, even when calling my name in the waiting room. He had just said my name and walked back to his office like he was calling a puppy for dinner.

After I delivered the cup of warm liquid, he literally opened an at-home pregnancy test and dipped the end into my urine. We waited in awkward silence for the test to come back -surprise- positive and he said, "You're pregnant."


"Good to know."

"You haven't done the blood tests yet?"

I was tempted to look around me to see if there were hidden cameras or Ashton Kutcher waiting behind the exam curtain. Was this guy serious!?

" You're the first medical professional I have talked to about this."

So he wrote up an order for the full gamut of blood work and tried to send me on my way, but I stopped him and said, "So I'm not Australian, and have never been pregnant in Australia before, so I'm not sure how all of this works."

"Which hospital do you want to go to?" He asked. I repeated the fact that, being from out of town, I didn't know anything about how all this works, including which hospital to go to. What did he recommend? He asked if I wanted to go public or private and I explained that my insurance would only cover public hospitals. So he narrowed it down to the public hospital that has a maternity ward on our side of the city. He told me that after he got the results of the blood work that he would put in a referral to the hospital and I would have all my appointments at the hospital from now on. Sounded simple enough.

I popped over to the pathology lab down the road and got my blood drawn. I was told that the results would be sent to my GP and he would take it from there, so I went home and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

About a two weeks passed and I was quickly approaching the 12 week mark, but I hadn't heard back about my blood work. Everything I had heard about countries with public healthcare is that things take longer than they do in America, so I thought maybe it would be normal for blood work to take two weeks. I waited one more week before I got worried that maybe something had gotten lost, and I called the doctor.

"Oh yeah, those results came in weeks ago!"

...WHAT?! Why hadn't I been contacted?! Was everything normal? Had the doctor made the referral yet??!

"Yeah, we got those results about three days after your appointment. The doctor looked at them. The note here says that everything is normal and no further action is required."

"See, that's the darnedest thing, because there is further action required. I need him to make a referral to the hospital so I can go see an OBGYN," I said through gritted teeth.

"Oh! You haven't had an appointment at the hospital yet?!" the receptionist said. This was a different, much more pleasant lady than last time, but her pleasantness was not cancelling out my frustration with her lack of helpfulness.

So she asked the doctor to make a referral for me.

A few days later I got a piece of mail asking me to come in to the office...why didn't they call, you ask? Because the first receptionist hadn't made note of my phone number so they didn't have a way to contact me. So I go in to find out that the referral got bounced back and that a GP cannot make a booking for me at the hospital, an OBGYN had to.

"...but I thought I had to go to the hospital to see an OBGYN," I said.

"You do," said the doctor, "This is the first time I have seen this. They said that since you are not a public patient that an OBGYN has to make the booking for you."

"Right, but how am I supposed to go see an OBGYN if all the OBGYNs are at the hospital?"

"You'll have to go see a private OBGYN."

"But my insurance won't pay for a private OBGYN."

"You'll have to talk to your insurance about that, but you'll need to hurry because you should really have seen an OBGYN by now, you're almost 12 weeks along."

I seriously could have ripped his face off at that remark! I hadn't seen an OBGYN yet because of HIS office's incompetence! HIS receptionist hadn't written down my phone number! HIS office didn't call to tell me the results were in. HIS note on my results said no action was required when there was in fact action required! NONE of this was my fault!

Eventually I was able to make an appointment with a private OBGYN. I called my insurance immediately to ask how this whole pregnant-in-Australia thing works. I got someone in a call center. In Detroit. I'm not kidding.

I hung up and called again. I got someone in a call center. In California. Who specialized in travel insurance, so she didn't know anything about antenatal care in Australia.

I hung up and called again. I got someone in a call center. In Australia! He was very sympathetic and read his approved script very well, but he had clearly never spoken to someone in my situation before so when I went off his flowchart and asked about the whole public OBGYN vs private OBGYN situation he responded with, " Yeah, I don't know, but that does sound very frustrating." You're not helping things, CRAIG!

All this before I was able to meet with an OBGYN for the first time at the 10 or 11 week mark.

So, if anyone asks, tell them NOT to have a baby in Australia. Unless they are a citizen and have a medicare card, of course.

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I am sorry you are going through all that! Hopefully you will get your OBGYN sorted soon enough and everything will go smooth from there. Are there any expat mom groups you might connect with to get advice or at least solidarity in the absurdness?! I wonder if that kind of thing is less available because Australia is more "Western" than the Middle East.