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headinclouds Feb 11, 10 11:06 am

How my trip changed in a blink of the eye
Fully flat bed, 21” screen with 20+ channels of entertainment, amenity kit with cool stuff, slippers and pj’s plus robe, more than 30 items on the menu, 3 kinds of tea, etc. Sounds like CX or JL first class long haul flight. Not really. The above describes my 2 day, unscheduled stay at Raffles Hospital just after this year’s SIN FT DO.

As I was saying farewell to the last remaining FT’ers in Singapore on Monday morning, I noticed an oddity in my left eye. I am sensitive to eye health since I had a tiny tear in my retina nearly 10 years ago. While en route to the tourist kiosk for some info, more changes to the vision in my eye occurred. After some minutes of indecision, I finally went to the hospital emergency department at Raffles Hospital. Luckily Raffles Hospital has a special eye center, but I had to wait until 2:30 before I could go there and wait for an examination. Go eat lunch the staff said. Always an emphasis on eating in Singapore.:D The ophthalmologist diagnosed me with a detached retina and wanted to operate that night. Returning to the US was not an option since repair has to be done with 24 hours of detachment without a loss of vision. Within 12 hours of the first symptoms of vision problems, I was being wheeled into the operating room at 11 PM for a successful surgery to repair my detached retina.

After the initial shock of needing an immediate surgery, the next step was figuring out the financial arrangements. The hospital provided me an estimate of $17K SGD. Normally, a deposit of 25% is required for hospital admission, but this estimate was so high that payment in full was required before admission. I did not have any special travel medical insurance since my health insurance has international coverage. My first step was calling the Blue Cross Blue Shield worldwide number. That service indicated that a direct payment to the hospital might be possible if my benefits could be verified with my health insurance, but they needed at least 24 hours. I tried to calculate the amount of credit I had on my credit cards as a fall back option, but was a little short. The hospital was adamant about full payment before admission. I was running out of options.

I next remembered a benefit of my membership in a business group. I had access to the services of Assist America. I called them and explained the situation and my actions so far. With their help they were able to convince the hospital to accept a larger, but less than full payment before admission and the surgery. Assist America medical coordinators were going to get Blue Cross and Raffles hospital to arrange the necessary payments while I was in the hospital as well as coordinate with my family relatives. After 3 or so hours of frantic phone calls, I was admitted to the hospital for emergency eye surgery 2 hours later.

Later that morning after recovering from the surgery, the saga continues. Assist America was able to do a conference call between my brother and me regarding payment. Because of the MLK holiday in the US, Blue Cross needed another 24 hours for verification of benefits. The hospital expected payment of all outstanding balances upon discharge. They would not accept a payment from Blue Cross 12 to 24 hours after my discharge. Meanwhile, my doctor kept me in the hospital an extra day due to the circumstances of my situation. The end result was that a credit card authorization of my brother’s credit card would help pay for the final bill. A claim for expenses to Blue Cross would be made after the fact (and has been submitted just before the 2 east coast blizzards).

One positive note during my SIN trip was the front desk manager at the Conrad Centennial. I was on a 6 night award stay that ended 1 day before my flight departure with the Conrad ‘sold-out’ the last night of my stay. I planned to go elsewhere that last day, but that was before my hospital stay. I discussed my situation with the day manager (her name was Mai or May, not sure). She was able to allow me to stay in my original room at a reduced rate since no award inventory was available. Whether my gold status with Hilton made a difference is not known. Having a place to ‘go home to’ after my hospital discharge was a relief.

Being alone and in shock with a medical problem in a foreign country obviously affected my actions, but what should I have done differently? I’m still unsure what would have transpired if I had not been able to access the resources that I did use. I do know that I will buy special travel insurance if only for the 24/7 access and coverage.

magiciansampras Feb 11, 10 11:12 am

Wow! Sorry to hear about your troubles, that is quite a story. Not the usual trip report by any means. I hope the payment issue works out with your health insurance company. Isn't dealing with them simply divine?

GoingAway Feb 11, 10 11:28 am

Hope BC/BS steps up and covers the claim quickly ... scary to be in a funds first situation without the availability on hand and your health at stake. I'm glad to hear it all worked out well for you and hope you're recovering well (and get over that headache) !!

mlasser Feb 11, 10 1:24 pm

Glad you're doing better. It can be weird being ill in a foreign country. I broke a leg in Cambogia and had to spend a little time in BKK General.

I'm actually a little surprised BCBS covered you with that pre-existing condition. You should be very careful about what claims you submit. They'll be looking for rescission to deny your claim and you may come out ahead by paying your bill directly and not seeking an insurance claim.

Don't be surprised for a legal fight. After all, they do need to take care of their shareholders before paying claims. They're a for profit company after all.

opushomes Feb 11, 10 1:27 pm

Hope that you are recovered.
You raise some excellent points in respect to foreign travel. As you know, your situation was one of two known serious medical issues during SINDo 2010. Additionally, while in Kuching, I was approached by two attendees to see if I would be willing to arrange medical evacuation for another individual who they suspected might need it. Fortunately, that person did not require my intervention.

It is absolutely imperative for a comparatively small amount of money that travelers have medical evacuation insurance. Since most of these policies also include at least some medical insurance, what you encountered probably could have been eliminated. These travel insurance policies have contact numbers (and presumably skilled personnel) to deal with the issues you encountered.

Having now taken groups across international borders between Singapore and Indonesia (2X)/Malaysia, I've come to the realization that despite feeling confident that dealing with the logistics involved could be accomplished, I (as a non-paid unofficial volunteer) have no desire to assume responsibility for people who do not have insurance. Should I do future cross border trips, I shall insist that people provide proof of evacuation insurance as well as abiding by a few very simple rules.

1. Absolutely no photography in any security zone.
2. Respect the culture and mores of the country visited in respect to dress, simple business relationships and potentially offensive actions.
3. Realize that being a foreigner does not exempt one from the laws of the country visited. Those statements on entry cards concerning the death penalty for contraband are intended for all. The signs in arrival halls signify the same consequences. When in a group one's actions may impact the other innocent members of the group.

Hopefully, you will get prompt repayment of the amounts expended.

Lori_Q Feb 11, 10 1:32 pm

Like magicsampras said - WOW! I'm sorry to hear about your ordeal. At least you were in Singapore, and you were able to get the problem fixed before it caused permanent damage. Kudos to the Conrad for helping you out with accommodations.

Given how rarely events like this happen, I don't know that you could have done anything differently except for the obvious -- have a line of credit available in case of emergencies, and have backup source of insurance or advocacy to help you out.

Are you feeling okay now?

chanp Feb 11, 10 2:24 pm

Im glad your ok. Good to know about the Blue Cross delay, as it's one of my concerns when I travel. I guess I need to look at other insurances when I travel for immediate payout if nec.

pranu Feb 11, 10 3:12 pm

Glad you are doing well and back stateside Sid!

violist Feb 11, 10 4:18 pm

Whoof ... at least mine was sort of plann-able. Glad you can, like, see.

bschaff1 Feb 11, 10 7:33 pm

Glad hear you're ok and got your eye problem straightened out. Also, I would have thought BCBS would have been able to help right away since I've always considered the PPO I have to be the universal coverage in any developed country. Since I have one of their policies I'll have to look into making sure I'm covered with them for international travel in the future since I don't want to rely on my backup travel insurance.

Seat 2A Feb 11, 10 8:00 pm

I love your opening paragraph :D. Glad to hear things worked out okay and I hope that your eye will be trouble free from here on.

I am always amazed how many people I meet abroad that don't have some form of travel insurance. And, the farther you are off the beaten track into Third World nations, the more highly recommended medical evacuation coverage becomes.

restlessinRNO Feb 11, 10 8:09 pm

headinclouds - Thank you for your "trip report". I'm glad to hear you had 3 types of tea to chose from on the menu. :) Is it just me, or do others think $17K SGD is a lot to pay for retinal detachment surgery in Singapore?

pilotboy1985YYC Feb 11, 10 9:50 pm

Wow, that must of been scary. Being in a foreign country and stuff, although the fact you were singapore was good :)

It makes me wonder. I live in Canada and have free health care and out-of-province coverage, as well as private health care though my employer. This all sounds good and well, but what happens when I need to use it? How easy is it to use? 24 hours seems like a lot to wait in an emergancy!

glad all worked out

riant Feb 12, 10 12:10 am

Oh wow, glad to know that you're doing just fine now!

That brings up a questions, what kind of travel insurance do FTers usually get when traveling abroad? This trip report definitely urges me to get it every time I'm going out of country now.

Flight405 Feb 12, 10 4:07 am

Just shows you the value of arranging travel insurance, so that you're covered in the event of an emergency.:)

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