Saturday, June 11, 2016

Election, Disarmament, and Suicide Issues

A lot of people have been asking us about the U.S. election. It is strange being abroad for this one, and for feeling like you have the burden of explaining the rest of your countryfolk's decisions to various New Zealanders and international people. Many of them are incredulous at what's happening. It is nice sometimes not having regular television programming and being able to avoid most of the news. I requested to be able to vote electronically, so I hope that all works out okay when the election comes around in a few months.

I was in a room on campus finishing up one of my jobs when some people came in for a meeting about the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control and how to raise awareness of the issue of disarmament among the community, especially young people. They invited me to stay for the meeting, and it ended up being a very fortuitous encounter -- I learned about their work in New Zealand and was able to help them with some advice about social media strategies. The committee was established by the 1987 New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act and has a pool of funds for scholarships and programs -- the funds being given by France after the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior was bombed and two French Secret Service agents were charged (

In more depressing stats about New Zealand, there has been some media coverage about it having one of the highest suicide rates in the western world, especially for men. The earthquakes here have caused an increase for the Canterbury region in particular. I hadn't realized that it was such an issue until now, but it makes sense with the emphasis on rugged masculinity and the drinking culture where people don't feel comfortable opening up (or admitting they need help) unless they have alcohol to loosen up. And weirdly, just this past week while I was in the library there was apparently an incident where someone was stopped just in time.

In food may be nearing summertime in the U.S., with plentiful and cheap berries (so I hear), but the food selection has shrunk here, and I just can't justify $6.99 for a small pack of strawberries!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Zealand Healthcare for Non-NZ Residents, International Students

I’ve had another encounter with the medical system and thought I’d share some of the travails of accessing healthcare in New Zealand without the benefit of being on the public system. The international student insurance is for all intents and purposes just extended travel insurance. It doesn’t cover preventative care (even though postgraduate students are here for years and likely to need to access some preventative care) nor is it designed to let you see anyone not at the university health center. The dentist I saw last year recommended this doctor to me because he isn’t a New Zealander and is younger – he said he is more in tune with the latest goings-on in healthcare. Well, that didn’t quite turn out to be true, and doctors are still woefully ignorant about nutrition and how it impacts on health, and it is still ridiculous to expect a stranger to figure out what is ailing you in the brief 10-15 minutes you get. You’ve done hours of research and meanwhile they’re looking at a few numbers on a piece of paper as if that’s all they need. But, after a round of test results, I was able to achieve a somewhat satisfactory outcome after a couple tries.

If you aren’t covered by the public New Zealand healthcare system, here are some of the hassles you will have to go through, and some of the prices I’ve paid:

A visit to the doctor’s office as an international student (non-NZ resident): $95.

They said they were not legally allowed to do any lab work on me there, so I had to drive to one of the Canterbury Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) collection centers for bloodwork. I ended up holding up the line for quite a bit because the poor attendant had to look up in the price list all of the different codes and prices for each lab test that the doctor ordered. (There was no receptionist at the center I went to.)

Bloodwork lab tests: ranged from $7 to $44 each. Most were under $20.

These costs actually seemed pretty reasonable considering they are regular prices without insurance, and the results came back very promptly. I was able to get a printout of everything from the doctor’s office without hassle, too. (In the U.S., they always seemed to balk when I wanted my own copies of my own records!)

I also went in to see the nurse instead of the doctor one time, and that visit was less expensive ($31). You can get away with this type of visit in some instances, so you might want to ask.

The staff was nice, but they were clearly not used to dealing with people not on the public system. They seemed afraid to ask me for the $95 every time, whispering among their coworkers to check that it was really that much before getting payment. A couple newspaper articles recently have detailed some disgruntled seniors who can’t even get on the waitlists for some procedures because there aren’t enough specialists in the country, so that is a bit disconcerting. You’d think these countries would be pushing harder for better nutrition and preventative care to avoid having so much demand on services later in life. But no, their grocery stores are full of cheap soda and sugary treats, and students are guzzling energy drinks and Coke like it’s no problem.

Prescription drugs are reasonably priced as well, around $15-25 for a month’s supply. You can only get a few months of medicine at a time, but I’ve already detailed that in an earlier post.