Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
I studied abroad in Costa Rica over summer 2022, which was an experience like no other. The country was beautiful, however, the time of year it is usually sunny in New York, it is rainy in San José. I was not used to the daily rain, which caused me to get a sinus infection within the first two weeks. Dealing with this infection was medically difficult while having to attend university or excursions on a daily basis. In Costa Rica, there were no other places for medical care other than the hospital — they did not have small clinics or a City MD — so, in order to get help, I was taken to Clinica Biblica Hospital by my house mother. I received decent care, was given many different medications and was seen almost immediately upon arrival. After being examined by the doctors, I went to pay and was told the bill was around $54, which completely left me in shock that I could pay out of pocket.
I paid the bill as well as gave them my insurance card because, later on, I needed to go back to the hospital three more times throughout the rest of the trip. In total, I probably spent about $400, which seemed like a miracle that I could afford it and did not even need to ask my parents for financial help. It was not until a few weeks after I came back to the U.S. that I was mailed a bill from my insurance company of almost $15,000 for the healthcare I received in Costa Rica, which made absolutely no sense to me. I am not entirely sure what my parents did but I was told to let them handle it, knowing that I did not have that type of money to just hand over before Fall 2022.
Apparently, before any of the charges could be retracted, we had to prove that the medical care I received was in another country and not in the U.S. I was surprised and assumed that the insurance company would have files of their citizens who had left the country, in addition to the hospital having an address attached to the bill that was located in a different country. However, it seemed that we were required to provide proof for it to not be regarded as fraud. It took a few weeks, but thankfully we were able to prove our case by sharing the previous bills received in Costa Rica as well as my plane ticket and passport usage and they retracted the charges.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time my family and I have struggled with our health insurance. At the age of 15, my doctors discovered a scarring in my brain that was causing seizures. They determined that it could be removed through laser surgery, which was much less invasive than shaving my head, removing my skull and sewing it back into place. However, my insurance refused coverage and, of course, my family could not afford to pay out of pocket for brain surgery in this country. Instead, we reached out to anyone that could help us and ended up reaching a CNN reporter who published the story and got attention from thousands. It was not until over a year later that I was finally able to undergo the operation and force the insurance company to overturn their first decision and cover the costs of surgery for not only me but anyone who needs it. I never thought I would have to fight my insurance company again, however, what I did not realize was that the fight never ended, and the deceptions continue every single day to people all around the country. The U.S. healthcare system is flawed and nobody should be forced to pay millions just to stay alive and stay safe. Healthcare should not be considered a privilege — it is a fundamental right. But, sadly, there are no laws that define this, and millions suffer as a result.
Cara Pressman (she/her) is a junior English major. Contact her at email@example.com.