What category is he?


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I first became suspicious that the company provided category C medical insurance wasn’t “all that” when I phoned the number on the back of the insurance card.

“Yes hello, I’m new to the country and I’ve been taken ill and would like to know how do I go about seeing a GP?”

“What category are you? It should say on your card?”

“Um, it says class C, is that it?”

“Oh…! I don’t think you’re allowed to see a GP then.”

Not allowed to see a GP? So what exactly do I get with this policy, a 50% za’tar discount at my local bizza blace?

It turned out that I’m basically only entitled to have emergencies. Anytime I’m taken ill, I have to turn up at one of the few hospitals that’ll have me, make my way to the Accident and Emergency unit and try to convince the doctor there that the sniffles I’m suffering from warrants his attention.

Medicine is big business in insurance based societies and doctors here are consequently extremely prescription happy.

I was once literally given 6 boxes of various types of medicine when I went seeking a doctor’s note for a heavy flu that was keeping me in bed. In the UK I would probably have been politely asked why I was bothering the GP with something so trivial and reminded of the ability to self-certify oneself as being sick for any absence from work less than seven days.

Medicine? Yes. They’ll laden you heavier than a Santa Claus but sick notes? No!

The insurance companies tell the doctors that someone missing work is very “bad!”

Basically, if you’re well enough to be able to explain to a doctor that you’re ill then you’re perceived as being well enough to go to work.

If you haggle you might be able to get a 24 hour sick note but expect to undergo a severe brow beating in the process.

One doctor very grudgingly gave me a solitary day’s sick note when I pointed out that I had a fever, was very weak and liable to faint if I stood up. As he handed me the note he informed me “Here, but I do not want to see you back here tomorrow.”

Also, getting sick on a Friday isn’t recommended. It’s better to ensure that your immune system is more immune on jumu’ah.

Injuries and illnesses should be confined to weekdays and also to normal working hours if at all possible. Hospitals aren’t particularly hospitable to Friday visitors, empty yes; but able to help you – unlikely.

And people have clearly learnt and adapted to this judging by the empty waiting rooms and corridors you’ll see if you actually venture down there on a Friday.

Then there’s the English language factor you might come across when you try to explain whatever it is that is amiss.

It’s not that people over here don’t speak English, it’s more that they don’t speak English in a manner that you’re used to hearing in, for instance, England.

A brief case in point:

I’d been suffering from an extended period of vomiting and had braved the A&E ward seeking some form of resolution.

The doctor went through the normal set of questions that I’d also expect to hear in the UK.

When did this first occur?

Are you otherwise fit and healthy?

Are you on any medication?

Do you feel any pain?

And then he just suddenly just said “Urination?”

“Uh..” I said “Yes, I do urinate.”

“No. Is it hot?”

Is it hot, I thought? Do you know in my entire life on this planet I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to even once check the temperature of my urine? I mean, what does he think I do in the bathroom? Or maybe it’s me, maybe I’m strange and maybe it’s a totally normal thing for a person to regularly check for temperature fluctuations but that nobody has bothered to tell me this yet.

“Eh… I guess, it’s probably about normal temperature *shrug*”

“No. I mean, does it burn?”

“Oh!” as I finally start to comprehend “In that case, no!”

Anyway, having had enough “bad experiences” with the insurance compliant medical options, I opted to pay for my most recent set of treatment myself in a brivate hospital.

And I must say that private hospitals are better kitted out and decorated than any building I’ve ever seen before, either in “real life” or on TV.

I mean the lobby was littered with chandeliers, individual leather chairs for visitors and had a scenic pool with coy fish happily swimming around in and this wasn’t even a waiting room, I was just standing in the vast entrance hall next to the state of the art security desk.

I was soon sat in my consultant’s chair waiting while he was debating with a colleague which procedure to offer me. I heard him lean over and say to the other doctor “What category is he?” The reply came back “He’s cash!”

So one financial fleecing and a questionably necessary operation later, I can now offer my general advice about getting ill in Saudi Arabia. Quite succinctly – don’t!

Wait until you go back to the UK for a vacation and then get a sick as you want.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “What category is he?

  1. ...

    insurance never really covers what its supposed to so why not jsut sack it altogether and leave it to Allah….

    That is the attitude i used to hate…but sadly having tried and tested them, its really true…insurance peeps will always look for a way not to pay, so why pay them in the first place, just pay direct.

  2. It’s weird for me though because coming from the UK where our medical care is free, I’m not used to dealing with all this insurance nonsense.

    In the UK if you’re ill they just treat you. Granted, you might spend five hours sitting in a waiting room (in a run down hospital) next to some drunk who’s fallen down the stairs for the fifth time this month but they’ll sort you out eventually.

    Working here in Saudi the medical “care” is included in your contract so your first recourse will be to a method that’s not going cost you something. However, having been here for nearly a year now, I’ve realised that you should only go down the insurance path if there’s no real urgency or time-specific need to get treated.

    If it’s anything even remotely important you’ll be wasting valuable time and likely even be refused treatment if you try the insurance sanctioned route.

    However, this has the other problem that when you start to pay for medical care yourself there’s always the chance that you’ll run out of money halfway through and have to come to terms with not getting the treatment that you need.

    I’ve personally come a cropper in both avenues. I’ve wasted time trying t0 get treated under insurance and waited three days for then insurance company to turn around and say no, by which time the procedure I wanted has been delayed too long to help me anyway.

    I’ve also started paying for medical help and ran out money halfway through when I’ve got caught between wages and thus had to stop treatment.

    So all in all, medically speaking, my Saudi experience has made me homesick for the National Health Service in the UK.

    But yes you are correct we depend upon Allah as all cure ultimately comes from Him.

    Baraka Allahu fikum.

  3. Naive statement alert: I’m surprised that Saudi relies on insurance schemes at all… i thought insurance was Islamically “iffy”?

  4. You’ll be surprised [or not] at the amount “iffy” things I’ve seen in Saudi.

    The insurance issue is a long one and it passes over my head quite quickly when I try to understand it. I’ve generally followed the opinion that it is only taken in cases of necessity and even then only to the minimum degree that is necessary to meet the legal requirements (e.g. in the UK I’d take third party fire and theft car insurance not fully comp).

    Hood seems to have a good grasp of many related issues regarding insurance. His site gives a lot of beneficial insight into various contemporary issues (jazahu Allahu khayran).

    But in general I wouldn’t let the disparity between what Saudi based scholars often call to and what many average Saudis actually do surprise you. There’s quite a battle going on for the minds of the people between the ‘ulama and some modernist/liberally inclined people with influence.

  5. Do they at least have some kind of free government health service for poor people? I know at Hajj time, pilgrims get treated very well (i’ve heard that they even use helicopters to transport patients to the Mina/Arafat to make sure they complete their Hajj!), but i wonder about the general poor people, the rest of the year…

  6. Pingback: Yay! For National Pride. « Ḍoṭṣ Unḍer Conṣonanṭṣ

  7. iMuslim: I’m not exactly sure. I mean for a start the term “poor people” should be subdivided into poor Saudis and poor other nationalities. I understand that the immigration population is so big here that Saudis are actually the minority now.

    As for the poor others “Pfft, who cares?” seems to be the predominant attitude. Foreign workers in many respects seem to be treated like oil “There’s plenty more where that came from, so let’s waste what we’ve got.”

    I mean sponsors who bring foreign workers over here, I believe, are required to have some form of insurance for them but I wouldn’t be surprised at how rampantly that’ll be ignored by scrupulous employers. You hear of stories of “workers” from poor countries being made to work seven days a week (which is illegal) or kept in the country indefinitely because their sponsor never gives them the exit visa they need to leave.

    I think quoting an unrelated Russell Peters‘ line can summarise the attitude towards “workers”:

    “If I get rid of one, I’ll just get another one and then I’ll tell the new one what an idiot the last one was!”

    I think Hajj is different though, the pure logistics of dealing with that many people necessitates better treatment, as ignoring things like immunisations, etc. could prove more costly in the long run. Although, I assume there’s also some good intentions in there too.

    In terms of poor Saudi people then I don’t think there’s any kind of welfare system to look after them or help them when they’re sick per se.

    From my observations it seems more that religious organisations (which granted may receive government sponsorship/support) that assist the poor.

    It’s reliance upon charity and the existence of people seeking to earn good deeds that seems to sustain the poor. A person can put his case to an Imam or some recognised body and be issued with a certificate testifying to their situation. They can then flash this certificate whenever they want to beg or approach wealthy religious types.

    They’ll also be put on kind of poor watch list whereby they’ll be known to the community leaders who’ll ensure that zakat, donations and things like aqiqah meat get sent their way at regular intervals.

    A lot of the above is my own observations so perhaps someone who’s lived here longer could correct me if I’ve misunderstood how things are run.

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