Monday, April 14, 2008

Apoteket, Eventually

JoeThis week I finally ran out of my US prescription medicine, so today I went back to Apoteket, the state-run pharmacy monopoly here. You may recall from a while back that we were waiting to make doctor's appointments until we had gotten our registration from Försäkringskassan. This is because the documentation we had been given said we should register with Försäkringskassan as soon as we arrived, and the helpful (seeming) man at the local Försäkringskassan office said, "You fill out these forms, then we send you a card, and then you can go to the doctor." Well, after three weeks of waiting for a Social Insurance card to arrive, a couple of phone calls revealed that we needn't have waited: Försäkringskassan covers things like pensions, long-term disablility, and worker's comp, but it is unrelated to the national medical insurance scheme (which, I guess, is just so ubiquitous that Swedes don't even think to mention it). All this is a Good Thing, because as non-taxpayers (Jennifer's stipend is tax exempt) we aren't eligible for Försäkringskassan benefits.

So, that's three weeks wasted. We then set out to make appointments to see a doctor, which took another 5 weeks or so. One of the ways in which the Swedish health care system is different than that of the US is that every neighborhood in Sweden has a Vårdcentral, which is not a hospital so much as a clinic. When you need any kind of non-emergency medical care, you start with your local vårdcentral. There you are assigned a doctor, who is essentially your primary care physician, who writes your prescriptions and refers you to other doctors. The vårdcentral also serves as your local urgent care clinic, where you can get a same-day appointment for non-emergency-but-still-urgent stuff.

OK, so after two months I finally had an appointment, and somewhat anticlimactically, it lasted for all of five minutes. My doctor looked at the prescription bottles I brought in, typed on the computer a bit, and then we were done. I expected to be poked and prodded a bit, maybe get a bloodwork order, or at least a request for medical records, but instead he seemed quite happy to just fill my (admittedly innocuous) prescriptions and be done with it. Here's the cool part though: no written prescriptions. He wasn't just typing up a scrip to print out, he was actually putting a prescription in a database. Once they're in there, you can go to any pharmacy ("In Sweden," he hastened to add) and they just look it up and fill it. Here we go, I thought, finally we begin to see the benefits of living in a socialist paradise, where everything is centralized and standardized. No transferring prescriptions from one pharmacy to another, no waiting a few weeks to fill a new one then realizing you've lost that critical little piece of paper in the meantime.

Fast forward to today. I went to the Apoteket branch downtown, and this time I took a queue number for the recept line. After a few minutes, my number was called, and I went up to the appropriate counter. We haggled for a few minutes about my legal status:
You have ID?
Yes, here you are.
But you do not have a personal number?
Yes, I do.
[Some typing] But you do not have the last four numbers.
Yes, they are xxxx.
[More typing] But you do not have a personal number.
No, I really do.
But this is not you.
No, that's someone else. But that's not my personal number.
Because you do not have a personal number.
Because I do have a personal number, and that isn't it.

…and so forth. Eventually, we reached an agreement: I exist, and have a personal number. And, incidentally, prescriptions. Hooray. So the pharmacist filled my prescriptions, printed a bunch of stickers which then got attached to the pill boxes, the bag she put them in, and then to multiple copies of little yellow forms, two of which got handed to me. She told me I could pay the 600 SEK I owed up at the front, and that was that. As I turned to go, I happened to ask about the yellow forms, and she said, "You must bring those back when you refill the prescriptions." I allowed that I was confused, because I thought all that was in the computer. Well, it turns out it was in the computer, but no more. Now that it had been filled, I had to hang on to those pieces of paper and bring them back every time I got a refill, otherwise I could never get any more pills.

So I've traded a piece of paper I have to not lose for two weeks for a piece of paper I have to not lose for a year. Perfect.

Incidentally, if 600 SEK seems a little high for two prescriptions, well, it sort of is. But it is for three months, and you only have to pay the first 1800 SEK of your prescription costs per year, with the government picking up the tab for everything beyond that. So it's not so bad, really.

Now, to find a place to stash these little pieces of paper for the next three months. If only someone in Sweden sold hanging file folders with which to fill the hanging file cabinet we bought…

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