Health insurance is required for J-1 visa holders for the duration of their program and will be purchased for you by the Nakatani RIES Fellowship. More information on your health insurance plan will be provided prior to arrival at Rice University. When you go to a doctor or clinic you will need to show your insurance card and ID (passport).
In-Network Providers: You will be providing with a list of nearby clinics and hospitals that are considered ‘in-network’ by your insurance plan. Whenever possible, it is best to go to one of these designated clinics or hospitals. When you go to a medical provider that is considered ‘in-network’ by your insurance company they will typically only charge you a small co-pay fee for your visit. They will then submit the bill for your medical care/treatment directly to the insurance company on your behalf. The insurance company will then review and pay the appropriate portion of your bill (based on your policy coverage amounts) directly to the medical provider. If there is any unpaid balance due the medical provider will mail you a bill and you must pay the remaining balance individually.
Out-of-Network Providers: You can seek treatment at any clinic or hospital in the U.S. under your insurance plan but if you go to an out-of-network provider that does not have a direct relationship with your insurance company you may be asked to pay the full cost of your treatment individually up-front. Since medical care in the U.S. can be quite expensive, this means you should have a credit card with you to pay this cost. You should ask for a ‘detailed invoice’ from the doctors office and you will then need to submit this directly to your insurance company along with a ‘Reimbursement Claim Form’. You insurance company will then review your claim form and invoice and contact you if they need any additional information. Once approved, they will then issue you a check to reimburse you for the appropriate portion of your bill (based on your policy coverage amounts). Any unpaid balance would be your individual cost.
In-Network Clinics Nearby Rice: Upon arrival at Rice, all Nakatani RIES Fellows will be provided with a list of nearby in-network clinics and hospitals that accept your insurance plan. When seeking medical treatment you should first attempt to use these facilities.
Medical Care in the U.S.
If you become ill and need to see a doctor, call the Nakatani RIES Fellowship staff immediately and we will attempt to arrange for someone to go with you to the appointment.
The U.S. has a tiered medical healthcare system and whether you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, or hospital will depend on the severity of your symptoms or illness. This is because the cost of medical care/treatment varies with hospital emergency rooms being most expensive.
The most common types of medical providers used by visiting research students are.
- Clinics in Pharmacies (CVS or Walgreen’s): Some pharmacies in the U.S. offer small medical clinics that do not require an appointment and typically offer fast service for minor illnesses. Hours vary by location but they are typically open Monday – Sunday.
- Urgent or Express Care Clinics: Some medical centers offer urgent care or express care clinics for treatment of minor to intermediate medical issues without an appointment. Urgent care clinics triage medical care, meaning if someone with a more serious illness or injury comes in after you they will be treated first and you will need to wait. Depending on the clinic and day/time the wait can be quite short (~20 minutes) or much longer (up to a few hours). The wait time will be much shorter for minor/regular illness or medical care than it would be in a hospital emergency room. Hours vary by location but many are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Doctor’s Office: If you have an on-going medical condition or need to see a specific type of doctor you will need to make an appointment and find a doctor that is accepting new patients. Doctor’s offices are typically only open from 9:00 – 5:00 PM, Monday – Friday. If the doctor’s office does not accept your insurance plan they will likely refer you to a different doctor. Look up the list of in-network doctors on your insurance plan website or call your insurance company to ask for a referral to a doctor in your local area.
- Hospital Emergency Rooms (ERs): ERs should be use for life-threatening emergencies only. ERs triage medical care with those who have the most serious illness or injury being treated first. If you go to an ER for a non-life threatening emergency, such as a sprained ankle or the flu, you will be put at the bottom of the list and will have to wait for many hours, perhaps even a full day, before you are treated. ERs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Visiting research students are not eligible to seek treatment at the Rice Student Health Clinic as this is only open to degree-seeking students. As a resource, they maintain a listing of off-campus medical resources convenient to Rice campus that all students can utilize.
Medicine in the U.S.
Your U.S. health insurance will also include coverage for prescription medications that your doctor may prescribe if you are ill. The doctor will give you a written prescription sheet that you will take to a pharmacy to fill. Depending on your insurance, you may only need to pay a small portion of the cost of the prescription medication or you may need to pay the full cost. There is a pharmacy in the Kroger grocery store next door to the hotel and a CVC pharmacy just one block away.
At grocery stores and pharmacies in the U.S. you can also buy a wide range of over-the-counter (OTC) medication that does not require a doctor’s prescription. This includes medicine for headaches, muscle aches, cold, allergies, diarrhea, constipation, and other minor illnesses. However, the brand names of the U.S. medicine will be different from the brand names you are used to in Japan and the dosage levels may be different as well.
First-Aid Kit: We strongly recommend that you bring a small first-aid kit with common medication from Japan that you can use if needed while you are in the U.S. It is much easier to take the common medications that you are used to when you become ill than trying to find the best U.S. equivalent. For ideas of what you should include in your first-aid kit see the website below.
Staying Healthy in the U.S.
You should also be aware of the following recommendations for staying healthy and avoiding illness in the U.S.
- Animals: Before touching or petting any cat or dog in the U.S. you should always ask the owner if it is okay and you should avoid petting any stray dog or cat. Domestic pets are typically vaccinated against disease but stray pets may not be. Never feed or touch any wild animal in the U.S., including the squirrels on Rice University campus. Wild animals and stray cats and dogs in the U.S. may carry rabies and if you are bitten you will need to go to the hospital to get a series of painful and expensive rabies vaccinations.
- Fire Ants in the U.S.: Fire ants are now common in the U.S., and are particularly common in the South and West including in Houston. These ants will bite if you disturb their nest. While the bites are painful, they are not typically dangerous unless you are allergic or are bitten many times. When you are outside in Houston, particularly at a park or on a grassy area, be sure you carefully look for fire ant nests/hills before you sit down. These look like small mounds/hills of sand and if you poke them with a stick many ants will quickly come out to protect the nest. If you are bitten, you can use an over-the-counter antihistamine cream to reduce the itching/swelling but if you have any sort of allergic reaction you should immediately seek medical attention.
- Lyme Disease: If you are in rural areas where there are many deer (not common in Houston) it is important to be careful of being bitten by deer ticks as these may carry Lyme disease. Lyme disease is most prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast of the U.S. though it can also be found in rural areas throughout other parts of the country. If you are hiking through woods or pastures in a rural area where there may be deer, be sure to wear long pants/sleeves and wear insect repellent. You should also check your body carefully for deer ticks at the end of the day. For more on how to prevent tick bites see the CDC website.
- Mosquitoes in the U.S.: Mosquitoes are common throughout the U.S. and are very prevalent in Houston. Just like in many cities in Japan, it may be impossible to prevent all mosquito bites but there are steps you can take to avoid them. If you will be outside in the evening or early mornings it can be helpful to wear long pants and sleeves and/or use insect repellent with DEET. You can purchase insect repellent at any grocery store, pharmacy or department store like Target in the U.S. You should also always keep doors/windows closed or use screens to prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors. For more on how to avoid mosquito bites see the CDC website.
- Staying Hydrated: It is very hot and humid in Houston most of the year so it is important to drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated. The U.S. does not have as many vending machines as in Japan and they mostly have soda and sweet drinks. It may be helpful to carry a refillable water bottle for water or bring a thermos and tea bags if you would prefer to drink unsweetened tea throughout the day.
- Tap Water: Tap water is safe to drink in the U.S. but some people prefer the taste of bottled or filtered water. You can buy bottled water at all grocery stores in bulk or you can purchase a water filtration pitcher at a store like Target to keep in your fridge and refill from the tap.
Question: What do Americans eat when they are sick? Japanese people usually eat watery cooked rice or udon. I cannot find any stomach-friendly American food.
- We eat the same thing soup – usually chicken soup! You can find canned soup at the grocery stores or prepared soup in the deli/prepared food section of the grocery store.
- Some people even cook soups from scratch at home and, since American recipes make so much, they will freeze the leftovers in plastic storage bags or containers in their freezer and then defrost to eat when they don’t have time to cook – or when they are sick.
- Tip, while there are not many udon restaurants in the U.S., it is becoming more common to find Ramen restaurants in many cities and these can be good places to eat when you are sick as, sometimes, they serve udon too.
- However, remember, that most Americans don’t eat just plain, white rice. So, this would not be a food that many Americans would think of when they are sick with a cold or the flu. However, if you have diarrhea, plain white rice is a recommended food along with bananas, applesauce, and plain toast. This is called the BRAT
- 15 Best Foods to East When You Are Sick
- Exactly What to Eat When You Have a Cold or Flu
- The Best and Worst Foods To Eat When You are Sick
If you need to seek medical care or explain your symptoms/illness to someone in English it may be helpful to refer to this Medical Vocabulary & Phrases sheet in English and Japanese.