Figures vary dramatically, but according to the least conservative estimates, over 30,000 people die each year on Vietnam's roads. It's a huge figure and difficult to verify, but what is clear is that almost every family in this country has either lost someone to the roads or had at least one member seriously injured. This writer, himself, had a very lucky escape last month and was lucky to walk away with no more than scrapes and stitches to the head.
The problem is that living in Vietnam we rely too much on providence. Motorbike helmets are mostly worn because failure to do so will mean a fine, and like the folly of youth, when we tackle the roads in this country many of us still think we are invincible. We are not.
Nine is a lucky number in Vietnam and in this writer's little tragedy, nine quickly became an eight. When the truck pulled out onto the road without looking, disaster was inevitable. Somehow the vehicle was avoided and skidding out of its line, this writer hit the tarmac, head first. The helmet saved his life. Fortunately, help was at hand. A friend was on the motorbike behind and the people living on the street nearby quickly helped with bandaging up the wound. It was yet another lucky break. If the accident had happened in the countryside, this writer may have been in trouble. Nine became seven.
After the accident another problem arose. When this writer got to Hanoi for a second check up and X-rays, all medical bills had to be paid in cash. By the terms of his insurance, medivac — emergency evacuation — would have been covered, as would most treatment at Saigon‘s FV Hospital. But stuck in the north of Vietnam, everything had to be paid for in cash. Fortunately the fees were small. If the accident had been serious, the cost could have been extortionate.
Look After Yourself
The purpose of this piece is not to sell insurance. We can leave that to the likes of agencies such as IF Consulting or to the individual insurance companies. It's to talk about what can happen if you don't take responsibility for yourself in Vietnam. There is no national health service in this country, so the safety net for anyone who falls through the cracks is zero. Too many of us with the means to keep ourselves covered forget this. And driving without a motorbike license can, in many cases, mean that you are not insured.
Swedish long-term resident of Ho Chi Minh City, Nicklas Carlsson, has had first-hand experience of insurance policies saving his life. What was initially thought to be a kidney disease in 2007 turned out to be a rare blood disorder, HUS. Affecting only one in a million people, the mortality rate for non-treatment is 96 percent. Nicklas was fortunate. He was quickly evacuated to Bumrungrad in Bangkok and through a process of trial, error and extensive testing, his doctor there worked out what the problem was. Without the insurance paying for both treatment and evacuation, he would have almost certainly died — in the four years since he first became ill his medical costs have totaled over US$1 million.
Even more fortunate for Nicklas was the nature of the insurance policy that he first took out with Aetna in 2005. When he became ill he was covered for chronic diseases, which meant that all ongoing treatment for HUS was paid for — Soliris, the drug used to treat HUS, is the most expensive in the world costing VND10 billion a year. The policy he used also had a renewal guarantee, which meant the insurance company couldn’t just turn him out onto the streets, despite the costs to themselves. In addition it had a guaranteed premium — insurance companies often try to increase the premium after a claimant has had an accident or an illness. And he had a high yearly insurance limit for medical fees. If it had have been VND1 billion or VND2 billion, he may have been struck with a huge bill.
As Nicklas says, “If you’ve got good international insurance, there’s no bargaining. You’re given everything you need.”
It’s important to take a leaf out of Nicklas’s impressive book. No matter how we kid ourselves, we’re not invincible. We have no national health service safety net. And one day, it could be us, too. If your life matters to you, be responsible, especially in a country where getting around day by day can be a huge risk.