I held a Thai health insurance card for around eight years. For seven of those years it remained in some dark and secret compartment of my wallet, only being fished out when I had the sudden urge to check on the expiry date.
I often felt that the annual expense of renewing the card was something I just didn't need to pay, especially when you consider that the policy didn't cover me for out-patient visits (which most hospital visits tend to be) and I appeared to be in relatively good health.
In fact other than an eye infection, which cleared up within twenty four hours, and a minor operation to remove a tiny growth from the back of my neck (which cost barely a thousand baht), I can't think of any other time during that seven-year period when I took advantage of Thailand's medical services.
Then I reached my fortieth birthday and it all seemed to go horribly wrong.
Just four days after I'd blown out the candles, I went to bed before midnight with a strange pain in my side. It was nothing too alarming but rather like the old ‘stitch' that you used to get after you'd completed an exhausting cross-country run. Somehow I managed to fall asleep though.
Then at about four in the morning I woke up in agony. The pain coming from my lower abdomen was excruciating. I paced around the bedroom for half an hour willing it to go away. But the pain just got worse.
I threw on some clothes, locked the house and then stumbled the quarter kilometer to the main Rama 9 road (pausing several times to throw up on the way). The taxi driver who picked me up fortunately realized the gravity of the situation and got me to Samithivej hospital in Thonglor within minutes (he rode at least two red lights).
Upon reaching the hospital doors the pain got worse and I literally sprinted up to the duty receptionist screaming for help and attention. For those who don't know Samithiwej hospital, it fits easily into the five-star luxury category (in my blind panic it had been the nearest hospital I could think of) and true to form, the night staff rallied round to bring a wheelchair, mop my brow, show genuine sympathy and finally pump me full of painkillers.
To cut a very long story short, because I don't want to turn into one of those sad middle-aged men that likes showing off his battle scars, I was admitted to the hospital for three days, underwent an emergency operation to remove a kidney stone and at the end of the ordeal was presented with a bill for 107,000 baht.
The health insurance company thankfully coughed up almost 95% of it. If I had been unsure up to that point that health insurance was all a waste of time, then I had just been given one hell of a wake-up call.
Health insurance is something you cannot afford to be without! And yet most of the teachers I seem to meet with have little or no cover whatsoever. No pun intended but without adequate health insurance, you're an accident waiting to happen.
If peace of mind is the only thing you are buying, then health insurance has to be well worth it.