Like most people, Jose Lejarraga wasn’t looking forward to going to the dentist for a root canal. Unlike most people, he wasn’t just put-off by the funny smells and goose bump raising whir of the dentist’s drill: He also had to worry about checking his bags and getting through security.
Lejarraga, 27, is a visiting researcher in the University’s Ross School of Business. Suffering from a toothache a few months ago, he was told he would need a root canal. After investigating the costs of such a procedure, Lejarraga realized it would be less expensive to fly all the way back to his native Argentina for a week, undergo the procedure and fly back rather than use his University-purchased insurance and America’s health care system.
As an international research associate recently residing in Spain, he was required to have insurance that met the University’s requirements before coming here to study. According to Lejarraga, most European health insurance, like the coverage provided by his employer in Spain, was not deemed adequate. He was “encouraged” to purchase the University’s policy through The Chickering Group. He says his insurance costs about $90 per month, far more than he would have to pay in either Spain or Argentina. He soon learned that despite the extra cost, this plan was not really sufficient to cover his needs.
“They push you to do (insurance through) the school so you expect it’s going to be great,” Lejarraga said. “Because of this you don’t think about it, you just assume it’s covered. You are paying so much in comparison. You expect that you are getting premium stuff.”
What he got instead didn’t include even the most basic dental coverage. When dental distress struck, Lejarraga was forced to pay $75 for a 30-minute appointment with an undergraduate student at the University’s School of Dentistry. Although instructors oversaw the student, Lejarraga said his dentist-in-training “wasn’t exactly gentle.” Lejarraga said he chose the University because he heard it was the least-expensive treatment option available.
The scenario only got worse after his initial visit. Told that he needed a root canal, he was given a number of less-than-appealing treatment options. He could have the procedure done here, which would require suffering for one month until he could receive treatment and cost him roughly $4,500. Or he was told the tooth could be removed and then he could wait until he returned to Spain at the end of the semester to have an artificial tooth implanted. Lastly, he was offered the choice of simply taking antibiotics for three months until he finished his research period, an option that would prevent infection but afford no guarantee that his pain would be quelled.
Lejarraga ultimately invented his own solution. He purchased a round-trip plane ticket to Argentina for $860 and paid approximately $150 for immediate dental service. This was roughly one fourth of what he would have had to pay here. He also received faster treatment.
Lejarraga’s experience with the American health care system and University-provided insurance left some strong impressions on him. Health care in America, he explained, is “only accessible to a small portion of the population,” a population that hangs students and people from other countries – especially less wealthy ones – out to dry. “I would describe it as unfair overall,” he said.
And he has some pretty strong ideas about what the University could be doing better. One thing the University should do that it’s not doing is warn people who come from outside and don’t know about this system, he said. “A situation like this can mess up your whole stay here.”
Kate Truesdell is an LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.