Navigating the Italian Health Care System

So I finally went and signed up for the Italian health care system. As expected, it wasn’t what I’d call a normal experience, but then again, it wasn’t awful, so I’m counting my blessings.

I walked into the local clinic, greeted by paint peeling off the walls. As an aside, I was told today that it’s a law in Italy that private service-oriented businesses must repaint their walls every year or risk fines/being shut down for a while. And come to think of it, I’ve never seen paint peeling off walls of bars or restaurants . . . but health care clinics and hospitals? Whole other story.

Anyway, there were two large rooms off of the main hallway (full of sick people), but only one of them had a person inside. Really far away from the door and at a really small desk. And he was wearing a rather bulky jacket despite the fact that it wasn’t even cold enough outside for it. Looked like he hadn’t quite settled in yet for the day, so he’d be in a good mood, right? I mean, it was only 10 a.m.

So I picked him for lack of any other choice.

I told him that I needed to register for the health care system. He merely raised his eyebrows.

I added that I had never been a part of the system because I just got my Italian citizenship. He asked where I’m from. Why that matters, I’m not sure, but I told him anyway.

Another three second pause and he said, “You need a certificate of citizenship.”

I told him I have an Italian ID card. FYI, this lists your citizenship on it.

“Codice fiscale?” he challenged. This is a tax code and like our Social Security number in the States.

“Got it.” Hah!

He told me I was going to have to have some pazienza and wait for his colleague to show up. Again, 10 a.m., so I’m not sure when we were expecting the mystery man. Any minute, I imagined, but the pazienza comment wasn’t very comforting.

So I sat down in the hall as far away from all the sickies as I could. I’m just shedding this nasty cough, so I’d rather not repeat the last two weeks. As I waited, two different people asked me questions about where to get some kind of receipts. Right. Um, I’m sitting in the hallway on a plastic blue chair. Maybe you should ask someone inside a room at a desk, mini as it is? But no problem. I took it as a compliment that I look knowledgeable. And not sick.

After just 20 minutes of clipping my fingernails to pass the time (I’m not lying; I forgot a book), the guy went out for a smoke, about 10 feet from me, glancing at me every now and again as if throwing subliminal messages to leave. At least that’s what I got through the haze.

When he finished, he came over to me, asked for my documents, and then took them and made photocopies. Note this verbal request because this is the last time this man spoke to me for a long while. Also note that this is the same man that told me I had to wait for his colleague who was nowhere in sight.

He motioned for me to follow him, and so I did. We walked down the hall past the sickies (I held my breath) and into another rather large room. Anyone who has ever been in an Italian waiting room of this sort knows the kinds of looks I got from the other plastic blue chair occupants. I fiddled with my ID card, stuffing it in and pulling it out of its plastic holder repeatedly to avoid the stares. I’m pretty sure they still hated me.

Two small desks inside this room. Not sure what the deal is with the mini-desks, but I imagine it has to do with funding issues. And the fact that Italy is the opposite of Texas, i.e., everything is smaller here.

He pushed out the visitor chair (padded!) and motioned for me to sit down. Then he typed some stuff into the late 80s model computer, wrote some more stuff on an application-like form, filled out a little card that I’d get to take with me — probably a good 10 minutes of complete and utter silence. The pen was broken off at the top so that the ink had leaked down the side a bit, and I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t just throw that one away and use one of the other 30 identical ones in a little cup on the desk.

Right. Funding? Are we sensing a trend?

He scared me a bit as he barked at me to choose a primary doctor; he literally only said “Dottore?” Luckily I already had a name ready. I hate to think I’d have had to ask for a list from which to choose.

A series of ink pads and stamps (bam! bam bam! bam! bam!), my signature (he pointed to the X), and I was holding my new (handwritten) health care card.

Then, I swear, the man gave me a little “ciao” wave like you’d give to a baby — scrunchy fingers, opening and closing rapidly. At least it wasn’t the backwards ciao, which would have been way too familiar for our relationship in my opinion. Although scrunchy fingers? Yeah, that was pushing it too.

So I left thinking that this guy maybe didn’t actually have the authority to do what he just did, being as though he wanted me to wait for his “colleague,” which I began to think was code for “boss.” But when I got home, I compared my card to P’s, and guess what? Same handwriting.

Guess it just wasn’t his turn to work, and he held out as long as could.

But then he must’ve felt sorry for me or something, so all is forgiven on my end.

And so I say, Signor Scrunchy Ciao: grazie mille! I am now free to injure myself.

9 Beans of Wisdom to “Navigating the Italian Health Care System”
  1. Cynthia Rae

    Congrats! Nothing in this country is ever easy. On the upside, it feels like an acomplishment when you get something done! hehehehe! You brought back memories of when I had to jump through the hoops (though the hospital walls were not peeling, yet).

    The bads news for me is that my pdS is up next month which means I will jumping under, over and even through the hoops AGAIN! Wish me luck!

  2. Cynthia Rae

    PS. I have been thinking about adding stuff to my blog to bring a little extra cash (like adds or an amazon store). I was just wondering if the amazon thing is worth it.

  3. Sharon

    I just love my doctor in this town. He is the best doctor we have ever had. I feel fortunate. But then again I rarely ever go to a doctor. In this town they go to for every little thing.
    I agree with Cynthia that after the mission is accomplished you feel like you have done something. I wonder why they make it so difficult?
    Don’t get me started on the Post Office!

  4. Delina

    I’m not sure I should have read your post because I still have to get my tessera sanitaria thingy. So no extreme sports for me right now. I’m trying to psych myself up to going for it…Not easy.
    Congrats on getting yours!

  5. Elle

    I’m in the same position as Delina.

    Broken leg? No problem, I’ll mend it myself.

  6. sognatrice

    Cyn, best of luck on your PdiS; I’ve also sent you an email.

    Sharon, yes, I believe it’s best we leave the Post Office out of this. It’s just too inflammatory.

    Delina and Elle, really, it’s not all that bad, so as long as you have everything else in order, just work up the resolve and do it! Elle, I broke my arm without any kind of coverage (*and* I was illegal here at the time); they fixed it up, and I didn’t pay anything. So that’s good to know, right?

  7. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    Hilarious post.

    Then again I would be more than happy to trade paying for my insurance (I’m a consultant so I have to pay for my own) for a morning of red-tape.

  8. 08.02.2011

    Giving you a *baby–scrunchy fingers* wave! LMAO!!!! it just keeps getting better! Thanks for a good laugh! Glad you got your card though! Hugs!

  9. michelle

    HA! I totally forgot about this experience, Pam — blog posts actually are good for something, who knew? 😉 Please note after that paper card, they send you a plastic, credit card-like one . . . which I received sometime in 2010. Ahem.



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