It is well-known how healthcare cost is a nightmare for those living in the US. Insurance is, hence, mandatory to meet the expense. Over and beyond this, there is another complication that an immigrant has to face when inviting parents from India to spend a vacation. A major concern for them is factoring in the odds of them falling sick and requiring medical attention.
Before coming to the US on vacation, Senthilraj A’s parents had taken affordable policies. But it was of little use when his father suffered a mild heart attack during his stay in Texas. “The hospitals here were not accepting the Indian insurance.
Those that accepted it wanted us pay in US dollars and claim it back in India in rupee amount. My life turned upside down,” shudders Senthilraj A, recalling the time when his parents came from Chennai.
He was taken care of well medically. “But the stress it put us through makes us not to think of another vacation for them,” Senthilraj adds.
There of course are insurance schemes tailored for visitors, but its cost and to what extent it covers is still a bothersome question. Because, nothing is enough when it comes to covering the expense of hospitalisation.
“The medical facilities in the US are the best in the world. But the cost is prohibitive and no insurance seems to be enough when it comes to a visitor’s coverage,” says Ananathapamanabhan, a resident of New Jersey, who has been postponing his parent’s visit just for this reason.
It is not enough to take a policy, because of the type of coverage varies from scheme to scheme – the ones that offer the best coverage obviously come at a stiff premium. There are backup coverage options that carry an affordable premium, but the benefits they offer are correspondingly inadequate.
When her mother met with a minor road accident and had to be admitted to a hospital, Anitha Rao, a New Jersey resident, thought things were going to be a smooth sail as they had taken a policy. But it turned out otherwise.
“Our policy had sub limits, which meant for each component like testing, admission, surgery, doctor’s fees, etc., there was a limit. The magic figure arrived at by the insurance company was only USD 7,500 out of the actual expense of USD 40,000. We did not anticipate this at the time of taking the policy,” says Anitha.
It was worse for Narendra Khatri, whose father fell ill while visiting him in the US about 20 years ago. His father had an Indian insurance, which, however, was not accepted by the hospitals in the US.
Finally, Narendra was forced to send his father back to India for treatment. Soon, he started Insubuy, the first organised market place for visitor insurance.
“When I started it 18 years ago, the idea was to offer affordable insurance to the Indian diaspora. We were the first tech company in the market place with the focus on visitors. Though there is a considerable growth in the number of people taking insurance, only about 30 per cent of the people visiting US take insurance policy to cover medical expenses,” adds the founder-president of the firm.
This is largely because the premiums are high and the policy covers a portion of the expenses. Also, the schemes come with high deductibles, rendering the benefits appear meagre. For common ailments like headaches, sprains, fever, cold and cough, those in India typically walk into the local doctor’s office and pop the tablets prescribed. But this doesn’t work during visits to the US.
“Even though we have insurance, simple things like aches and fever will be under the deductible cost. So, they invariably land on my son’s budget. Therefore, we prefer to not complain about these to him during our visits,” reveals Mahadevan Ramachandran, a 65-year-old father visiting his techie son in the US.
“Whenever we pack our bags to visit my daughter in the US, the medicine kit appears to be larger than our bags of clothes,” quips Raajashree Ram. From painkillers to paracetamol, medicines for diabetes and hypertension, she carries supply that would last for six months. “Even antibiotic tablets are prescription drugs in the US, so we end up taking everything we need,” adds Raajashree.
One novel thing about the healthcare system in the US is that the hospitals attend to emergency situations, giving the best medical attention on the spot, saving the lives even when one is not covered. In deserving cases, there are charities that cover the cost.
To pack their ailing parents back to India is not an easy decision a son or a daughter can make. The guilt that the loving children feel is beyond comprehension. However, many a time, that is the only practical option available for them. This is a deep, haunting dilemma that not many can understand.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York