Health care: CAT scan cost for a traveling American

Imagine these parallel scenarios that illustrate a CAT scan cost for a traveling American.

Two people are passengers in minor traffic crashes, and each one still has an achy discomfort a few months later. Both people have doctors who recommend CAT (or CT) scans to see what’s going on.

One person is in the United States of America, the second person is in Southeast Asia.

Person one has a CT scan of the chest at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has insurance, and has not yet met her high deductible yet.

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She is charged either $870 if the hospital is in her insurance network, or $2,500 if the hospital is out of her network. The price includes the imaging and related facility fees, and a doctor’s interpretation of the results.

Person two has the same CT scan of the chest at a hospital in Penang, Malaysia. Person two is an American traveling the world without health insurance.

She is charged $240. The price includes the imaging and related facility fees, and a doctor’s interpretation of the results.

Person two is me.

That was the CAT scan cost for a traveling American.

Person one is fictional, but she is based on real prices I found on fairhealthconsumer.org for the Cincinnati zip code 45202.

This CT scan experience is the latest example of our health care overseas during our early retired budget travel adventure. (Keep reading to see how to potentially lower that $240 price tag.)

For our new readers, we were in a motorcycle crash in Thailand in early 2019. A cable company dropped a wire in front of my spouse’s face as he rode near the beach with me as a passenger. Down we went.

In Thailand, doctors detected one broken rib and told me it would take some months to heal. If you have ever broken a bone, you know fractures are not always seen on a first exam. That is why a CT scan in Malaysia found two additional broken ribs.

As they heal, my bones are fusing together slightly out of alignment. I had persistent side discomfort, and so I went back to the doctor.

My test was performed at the Gleneagles Hospital Imaging Department in George Town, on Penang Island, in Malaysia. The facilities are spotless.

The registration area for international patients at Gleneagles Penang Hospital, Block A, George Town, Malaysia, September 2019.
The prices are reasonable, compared to American pricing.

I know expats in Penang who go to other hospitals for medical care that cost less money, but I can only share my own experience.

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The International Patient desk scheduled my appointment within a few business days. English is an official language in Malaysia, so all doctors and nurses and technicians were fluent. Language barriers can be key blocks to successful health care abroad. (Learn from my mistake and read about that unpleasant experience here.)

I was given my images on a CD, and the doctor spent plenty of time answering my questions- I never felt rushed.

Overall, it was a good experience with health care overseas.

The lower cost of the CAT scan cost for a traveling American compared to back home was a boon.

Gleneagles Penang Hospital main entry, George Town, Malaysia.

I would recommend Gleneagles to anyone. In my case, I saw Dr. Amir Shah, an oncologist, because bone pain could mean possible metastasis from my former breast cancer.

If there was any drawback, it was that I spent nearly six hours at the hospital: waiting for the doctor to see me, waiting for the test, waiting for results, waiting for the doctor again. But as a retired slow traveler, I had no place to be.

I felt more comfortable going to a hospital for this type of test, because of my breast cancer history. Another expat might find other places in Penang to have a CT scan for less money.

And back in the U.S., imaging centers usually will offer prices lower than than hospitals for these types of scans, depending on your insurance, of course.

Americans do NOT have the best health care in the world.

I have gotten excellent care in other countries, such as Croatia, Mexico, and Malaysia, on everything from dental cleanings to cancer surgery, eyeglasses to vaccination clinics.

At these prices and service levels, I’m willing to keep traveling and keep learning about health care overseas, as our needs arise.

And I’ll keep sharing them here, for our fellow Earth Vagabonds.

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2 Comments

Another excellent article on health care and budget traveling. Gives confidence to those of us who travel without insurance. Sad that so many Americans are afraid to travel because of health fears while they are the only people who face bankruptcy because of medical costs. Your writing is realistic and reassuring since it is based on personal experience. Here’s hoping you don’t have need for more travel medical experience. Plenty of other topics for your writing skills.

If your rib bones are fusing together out of alignment, what is to be done? Surely they’re not going to rebreak them and start over. Does it mean that you will always have pain in the side?

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