First-rate healthcare in Hong Kong for OFWs, too
Bugnay, a barangay in Diadi town in land-locked Nueva Vizcaya is bordered by Ifugao, Isabela and Quirino provinces.
Designated a fourth class municipality, the region boasts of fine citrus crops and large tilapia harvests.
Fely Pagatpatan, a native Bugnayan, is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) whose life’s trajectory recently saw her ending up in Hong Kong’s main government hospital, Queen Mary.
Fely is lucky to be entitled to decent healthcare in the prosperous Chinese enclave’s main medical facility. She was hired three decades ago by a Hong Kong family when she was in her 30s and cared for two infants because the mother, a busy career woman, had little time for them.
Besides babysitting, Fely has been slaving with the usual household drudgery, like countless other OFWs have done over the years.
And as others also do, she took on occasional part-time jobs on weekends, something technically illegal which the authorities have turned a blind eye on.
Never having been given a raise from the basic minimum wage for all her years of faithful service, Fely resigned last year and took another job caring for an elderly widow.
But bad luck struck the hard-working Filipina last week when she was sent on an errand to the busy Wanchai district and was knocked down by a car.
A 66-year-old diabetic plagued with bad eyesight, Fely had crossed the street that day, looking the wrong way. Rushed by a kind bystander to Queen Mary hospital, she was X-rayed for a possible concussion and cracked ribs.
Thankfully nothing was fractured but the checkup revealed a big problem: her heart. The doctors termed her a candidate for a pacemaker, the device which is implanted in a patient’s chest to correct erratic heartbeats.
It isn’t quite like bypass surgery which deals with unclogging coronary arteries but one requiring an expert surgeon to undertake the procedure.
One of Britain’s legacies after its colonial rule, which ended in 1997, is universal healthcare for all Hong Kong citizens and longtime residents. Public government hospitals ordinarily charge a minimum for basic treatment.
Since Fely’s employer is responsible for her help’s medical expenses, as is the person who knocked her down in the street, she would be technically able to have the procedure which, in a private hospital, would cost thousands of Hong Kong dollars.
And there is the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration fund available at the Philippine Consulate to which all migrant workers are entitled with their regular contributions, plus there is Hong Kong’s Social Security Service to which indigent patients may apply.
In this way, Fely is a lucky OFW as her heart problem might not have been detected and treated had she been in her hometown in Nueva Vizcaya.
When I fractured my ankle two years ago, four days’ stay at a government hospital, plus drugs, treatment and therapy amounted to HK$600 (under $80), with continuing therapy for three to four months at minimum cost.
Medical care in the Philippines covering all citizens has been problematic, not just because of government budgetary constraints and misplaced priorities but because of the far-spread nature of the archipelago.
PhilHealth, the social health insurance policy set up to cover especially low-income people and indigents, is not famed for its efficiency. And of course the farther away one lives from the big towns and cities, the less chance one has of getting proper healthcare.
It may be unfair to compare a developing country like the Philippines with a prosperous enclave like China’s Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, where migrant workers can avail of medical care for catastrophic illnesses.
More progress in PH needed
Regulations governing the workers may be restrictive but the maids who have required medical care can be assured of adequate healthcare when in need. The occasional worker hit by appendicitis pain or pneumonia who, if she lives in one of the city’s outlying islands, gets helicoptered to a main government hospital and can think of it all later with gratitude.
In the Philippines, more progress in pushing healthcare for all citizens is something the politicians should put on top of their agenda. Whether they will do so in the coming election year is unlikely, but one can live in hope. CDG
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.