For better, for worse, in sickness and in health
First of all, I “hartelijk” (from the heart, in Dutch) hope that you had a good start to the year 2021, in Spain, they are calling it ‘The Year of Hope’ and I think that after all the bad times we have all overcome last 2020, hope is more necessary than ever.
But let’s get down to business, shall we?
After 3 years in Belgium, I am still not quite used to the cold weather, which makes my health a bit more fragile, meaning more visits to the doctors that I would like to.
In Spain it wouldn’t be such a problem, you just ask for an appointment with your doctor and that’s it, but in Belgium is a little bit different…here, they have the co-pay, which means that one part of your doctor’s visit is paid by you and the other one (generally the bigger part) by your insurance (Mutualiteit). Don’t get me wrong, we also have something similar in Spain, but it is mainly a private health provider that you pay and allows you to get to more services and whose professionals are more available than the public service, which at some points it can become collapsed.
So, back to Belgium, when you first arrive, please remember to hire a Mutualiteit, they have different plans, depending on the services covered (dentist, orthopedist, hospitalization, kids…) and also if it’s only for you or a family plan. If you come with a company, they also have their own company mutualiteit plan, in which you and your relatives will be included.
Once you are signed up, you will get a ton of yellow stickers that, after your visit to the doctor’s office, you will have to stick on the bill your doctor will give you, and take it into your mutualiteit, there is a postbox outside the offices where you can leave the paper.
Lately, there is also the option that the reimbursement comes directly into your account after 2 days if you have paid the appointment with your card, which is very convenient.
But, what happens when is something more important…like surgery?? Well, I also have answers for you.
Let me give you a little bit of background here…a year ago I weighed 120 kilos, which measuring 1,64cm it was certainly taking a toll on my health. Not quite in my self-esteem, since I have always been ‘plus-sized’, but I was also growing tired of making diet after diet and ending up recovering that weight or even more…so I decided to undergo bariatric surgery.
And man, that was definitely a trip.
First of all, I want to thank all the medical equipment that has ever treated me since I am in Belgium, all the doctors I have encountered before and after my surgery have been incredibly nice and non-judgmental. In Spain, I would sometimes find doctors that, no matter why would I visit them, but they would start my prognosis with “well, if you would lose some weight, you wouldn’t be in this situation”, but not here, which makes you feel more comfortable with your medical equipment.
But well, let’s go to the surgery part, after expressing my intentions of getting the surgery, my home doctor sent me to the endocrinologist to make some extra tests and assess the different options and surgeries I would have, and also if the surgery would be covered by the mutualiteit or not.
That is extremely important because if I didn’t meet the requirements or I would decide to get the surgery in a private clinic, it would cost around 12-13 thousand euros. I also had the chance to go through the public system in Spain, but that would take months or even years. However, due to my BMI being higher than 35, the mutualiteit would cover the basic costs (I can already tell you I learned the hard way what would that mean and how could I have avoided that).
So, I went to my first appointment with the endocrinologist in August 2019, and he gave the approval to start the process in November, meaning that by January, if everything went well, I would have my surgery. And that’s how it went!
I will save for another post the whole process, the different assessments I had to undergo with the surgeon, psychologists…the important thing is that one year ago, on 28th January 2020, I got into the operating room to change my life forever.
However, I learned the hard way how the system works, and I will tell you why, it was not really heartbreaking, but I take it as a lesson learned for the next time.
So when I was in the last appointment, to fix the date for the surgery, my doctor asked me if I had insurance, and I said, "yes, of course" and then he asked me whether if I would like a normal room -which is a shared room- or an individual one. I decided to have an individual room so my parents (which came here to help me out for the first weeks) could visit me and we could have also so privacy, and I am really happy I made that decision, especially since after the surgery the anesthesia caused me horrible nausea and I was feeling miserable...so I wouldn't want my roommate to pass through that and also tolerate a noisy Spanish family.
What I didn't know, and no one told me until after the surgery, is that in order to have surgery and the single room stay, I needed hospitalization insurance, which I didn't have at that point. Also, I should have been included in my husband´s company insurance since we had been married for two years already, but since we never officially requested me to join, the company never added me. Another of the things that I didn't know until now (or at least in the hospital where I got my surgery), is that if you ask for a single room, doctors are allowed to charge extra for other services like medicines, anesthesia...Long story short, I had to pay the extra charges for the surgery, which was around 3 thousand euros, which have to add up to the regular post-surgery check-ups.
But all and all, the surgery went incredibly well, since in only a year I have lost half of my original weight and also I have learned how to properly eat and not give in to snacks and anxiety eating, and I have also learned how the health system
and the health workers are in Belgium, and I couldn't be happier and most thankful for that.
So that's basically my experience with the Belgian health system, if you need more insights or any more details, don't hesitate to get in touch with me or with your Expat Centre Limburg, they will help you out with everything you need!!
Until the next time!