Classic Articles: Does your TEFL employer provide medical insurance?

In celebration of the upcoming release of the fifth edition of Horizons Journal, I’ve decided to revisit some of the classic articles from the first four issues. In this article, I examine the issue of medical coverage with the help of members of the ELT World forums:

‘How well will you be provided for should you need urgent medical treatment?’ I asked on the ELT World forums. Here are the responses of forum members from around the world:

Many of you seemed to have a pretty good idea of what would happen should you find yourself in trouble. ‘Yes’, exclaimed EFL Geek emphatically finding himself among the vast majority (71 votes – 83%) of you who are covered in some way should you need medical treatment. Only 15% (13 votes) of you stated that you weren’t covered. All I can say about the 2% (2 votes) who didn’t know if they were covered is that it must be nice to live in blissful ignorance! Several forum members explained the state health system where they are. Emma notes the situation in Greece:

‘In Greece, although your employer has to pay your contributions over to the National Health Service, I’m not sure how good it is and most people have a top-up insurance, even though it is in the EU.’

MELEE, in Mixteca, describes how things are in Mexico:

‘Mexico has national health, not the greatest, but if I had 3rd degree burns over 70% of my body, they’d treat me. Whether or not I’m close enough to a hospital that could handle that terrible of an accident is another story.’

Lozwich explains the situation when covered by private insurance in Bogota, Colombia, in comparison to Spain:

‘I’ve been lucky (?) enough to have had two surgeries here in Boggy, both completely paid for by my insurance. I think they even paid for the rental of my crutches, and they definitely paid for some slightly radical treatment I had. I gave myself a second degree burn when I lived in Spain, and the “treatment” I received at the local hospital was awful. I got better treatment and follow up physio advice (I damaged tendons in my hand through the burn) from a couple of pals who work for the NHS in London. I think burns are not very well understood by many medical professionals, and think there’s plenty of room for improvement on that front all over the world.’

Denise further discusses private health insurance, this time in relation to what one might find in the Gulf:

‘I’ve only had minor issues and routine checks, but they’ve been nearly fully covered. I just pay 2 rials, which is about $5, and get way more drugs than I need for free. Typically, the doc says, “I’m giving you this pill to take three times a day, and this pill to take once a day, and this pill to take only if you’re feeling really, really bad, and this other pill that you shouldn’t take at all.” Once you get into the system for the private hospital in Muscat, you get good care nearly fully covered. You just need a referral to get in for that first visit.’

The graphic, while reassuring, doesn’t of course tell the whole story. Dmb notes, for example, that while his insurance ‘also pays %80 of medicine. If I die however, I am only worth 15 grand ($).’ Further research into whether or not we consider our coverage adequate may well feature in a later edition of the journal. Yaramaz, another resident of Ataturkburg, Turkey, describes her situation: we don’t always appreciate medical coverage until we need it: ‘Yes – but only since last September in my current job. Last spring, several teachers (including myself) were involved in a car accident on the way back from a company class. The owner of our school arranged ambulances to a private hospital and paid out of pocket for all tests and treatments and hospital stays and follow ups (one teacher had a double fractured pelvis). As a result of this accident, they added full private insurance to our new contracts – I haven’t used mine yet, but am glad to have it. Public hospitals here are not very reassuring.’

A good point: if you’re going to have to rely on what you can get from the state when faced with a medical emergency, be sure to find out what exactly that is likely to mean. Also, find out if your employer is going to support you or cut corners if they possibly can. Glenski exemplifies with a case from Japan:

‘Health insurance co-payments are required by law in Japan. Just be careful about how your employer operates. If he counts only the hours you are in the classroom and it’s less than 29 per week, he can legally call you part-time when he reports you to the tax authorities and therefore avoid making the co-payments.’

Let’s round off with some very sound advice from Fat Chris in Japan, advice that will make more sense to you once you get into your thirties:

‘If a job wouldn’t offer me health insurance, then I wouldn’t be likely to take that job. That said, if I am choosing between two jobs with Job A offering more money and a “lesser” health insurance policy and Job B offering less money and a more comprehensive health insurance policy, I may be more likely to take Job B. Having an adequate health insurance policy can’t be emphasized enough. I am currently covered with life insurance thrown in as well.’

So, if you’re accepting a job as a teacher, whether for the first time or not, think about how well you’re covered in a medical emergency.

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