If the stubs on my book are anything to go by, in the three years preceding my move to the US, I think I probably wrote maybe one
chequecheck. And even then I can’t be sure that I wasn’t just in desperate need of a piece of paper to write a phone number or address on. From the big stores to Mr & Mrs Badcrumble at the farm shop, everybody takes plastic and the cheque is practically obsolescent.
Of course, plastic is equally omnipresent here in the US. The banks even discourage check use by charging customers for their check books – a practice that seems to me to be akin to giving a friend an expensive birthday present and him subsequently invoicing you for the time taken to unwrap it. Yet despite this, I seem to go through check books like a particularly wealthy philanthropist with a peculiar writing fetish.
Finally I’ve come to the realisation that it’s because I pay for our medical bills by cheque. And despite being a remarkably healthy family, that means writing at least 87 different checks a month to around 43 varied medical providers.
Naively, when I signed up to give away a healthy proportion of my salary to a health insurance company, I assumed that this would mean that my health bills would be paid if and when I had a problem. Sure, I knew that there would be a “co-payment” (surely an insurance company invention to ensure that hypochondriacs don’t go to the doctors every other day) but I somehow believed that would be the end of it. How wrong could I be?
Essentially a health insurance card is less a payment mechanism, more a discount scheme. You might get about 20-50% off the total amount, but they’ll still come after you to cover the costs after your ‘discount’. I can just imagine the ad campaign…”Got a broken leg? – it’ll normally cost you $8000, but with Blue Cross insurance we’ll let you hobble away on crutches for just $6800! It’s a deal so good, you’ll feel like breaking your other leg!”
Whether it’s a simple injection or a laborious operation, insurance companies have got a way to ensure that they never have to pay the full amount, leaving you hoping that you only have to go to hospital during the January sales (heart bypasses half price, and buy one ingrowing toenail removal, get one free). Although if medical care was indeed like shopping and you’re anything like me, you’d go out with the intention of having an appendectomy, and come back having had your tonsils out because they were on special offer.
After all, how do you think I got my third nipple?