Rebuking CNN's Medical Care Abroad Article

I came across this CNN article the other day from the end of February. It’s about the dire situation you put yourself in as an American when you travel abroad and that you must, absolutely must have travel insurance. Take a minute and read it. You’ll be thrilled you did as I found the article to be ludicrous, poorly written, and most importantly completely without research.

Let’s take a look at this. Who is the author? It’s a woman by the name of Debra Alban. She is on the regular staff of CNN and appears to be more of a producer than a writer, although she has contributed some other pieces with sweeping generalizations such as this and this. Her approach seems to be to posit some bit of “fact” and then base the rest of her article around this with little detail given the intricacies of what she is writing. This seems to be more the style of FOX News and I suppose this is all subjective to tastes, but for comparison, look at any BBC article and you’ll see that they support what they’re saying with a bevy of facts to back it up. Even what are basically op-ed pieces like the Euroblog are supported by on the ground experience that is pertinent, relevant, and specific. You get the feeling from Debra’s article that, while it is most likely not the case, she hasn’t actually been outside the US in a long, long time.

The start of her article cites a 19 year-old girl in Spain who purportedly received less than adequate health care after an accident in Spain where she shattered her kneecap at a football match. This is Alran’s prime example as to the dangers of receiving health care outside the US. Let’s talk about this girl whose name is Orla Buckley. She has a Bebo page where she goes by the name of “Bootiejuice”, which is simply prosaic to a point of transcendence. Bootiejuice lives in Ireland now and has a great many pictures up in her profile that focus around the primary activity of drinking. There is nothing wrong with this, except that for a reporter to base an article about health care outside the US on her activities, is inane. One can only assume that this girl was most probably drunk when the incident occurred (seeing as how she appears to be drunk a lot and was at a football match where drinking is the #1 fan pastime) and that her recollection of events is greatly skewed. Then of course there is the issue of Bootiejuice stating she has “intermediate” knowledge of Spanish. Americans have a wickedly bad tendency to overstate their ability with languages. By American definitions, I’m damned near the “conversational” level in about six languages: Spanish, French, Russian, Croatia, Bosnian, and Serbian. Given this and the fact that asking what was needed to be asked by Bootiejuice in Spanish is quite basic, I can only deduce that her level of the language was indeed poor despite what she says, or that she could speak the language well, but was indeed so drunk that she was unable to speak or understand anything. Thus, faulting the hospital for not being able to explain the problem to her is blame severely misplaced.

Oh yes, there’s one other big point that needs to be raised in using Bootiejuice as a source; her incident happened in 2003. This article has just recently been published in 2008. That is about half a decade which has passed since this happened. No matter the degree of verisimilitude to the event, how can this source be used? Simple. Alban couldn’t find any more relevant source from a later date, because these incidents so exceedingly rare that she had to resort to cherry picking.

In all honesty, I would gladly have any kind of heath care done in Spain as opposed to the US, seeing as it it is 7th in WHO ratings and the US is 37th. Bootiejuice was actually lucky to have the accident happen in Spain, since they will treat anyone there regardless of coverage and it’s easy for the American doctors to criticize about the surgery she had now, because it’s always easier to criticize when you’re not there. Travel insurance would have done little to help her though, unless of course she had the “evacuation” policy. I don’t think people realize that travel insurance policies are a lot like extended warranties. There are rare occasions where if one is trekking through the heart of Africa they can be useful, but in day to day issues, they are about as bad as the main health care policies found in the US. For instance, a friend of the family had a mental breakdown on a recent trip to China and while she had travel insurance (and supposedly a good one) none of the cost of getting her out and back to the US was covered. Why? Because it was a mental issue and the small print didn’t cover that.

In conclusion, I felt I had to bring this up as this article has been reproduced on many sites out there, since this is CNN and supposedly a reputable new agency. But, I question Debra Arlan’s journalistic integrity. This article appears to be little more than a thinly veiled guise to advertise travel health insurance just in time for when people start thinking about the travel season again. The article is so bad and her arguments so weak that I wonder as to whether she was paid by an insurers group to write it? Obviously, I have to proof of this, but then again, Arlan’s article puts forward next to no proof to back up her claims as well, so touché.