Monday, April 27, 2009

Penny-wise and pound foolish

The Los Angeles Times reports that many California counties are eliminating non-emergency health services for illegal immigrants in an effort to shore up their budgets. While this may save a little bit of money in the short-run, experts believe it will lead to drastic increase demand for singificantly more expensive hospital emergency services, perhaps even leading to loss of life (and not just of the illegals).

With an estimated 2.7 million illegals among California's 37 million residents, the state is severely burdened by the presence of so many undocumented residents who can't get into the system and thus warrant Federal aid. As long as millions of illegals are going to be present in California and the lesser-49, those states should probably readjust their philosophies and try to take some of the savings and economic gain provided by this vast and cheap labor pool and apply it to some of the services they require. (I've never been a big believer in the idea that illegal aliens are a net drain.)

South Korea, for its part, handles things much like these California counties: the pay-as-you-go system allows for that. Illegals cannot get into Korea's national health insurance scheme, but standard health care is relatively cheap even when paid completely out of pocket. Unlike California, Texas, New York, and Florida, collectively home to some five million illegals, Korea's population of undocumented workers is less likely to set up house and stay for the long-term, though this, too, is changing.

I recall when I had my appendectomy and the hospital staff realized that I was a foreign citizen and decided I was a flight risk who might take off without paying the bill after receiving the surgery. They wanted me to pay the W3.5 million won up front that my surgery and hospital pay was expected to cost.

I protested, of course, and was then told of a Nigerian man who had run up W8 million in hospital bills and then fled without paying. As best as I could in my painful condition, I told them that I was not Nigerian and even if I were that person's case would have nothing to do with me: I was a legal resident of Seoul despite my foreign citizenship, I had Korean National Health Insurance, and the government was in a position to seize my property if the hospital were to take legal action against me for non-payment. In short, they had nothing to worry about.

If I weren't crouching over in pain, I would have famously stood my ground until they caved, but I was in no such condition, so I got them to agree to a W1 million "down payment," which I handled with my credit card (a Korean credit card, though that probably made no difference). The surgery and hospital stay, once insurance kicked in its share, cost only W1.5 million (and had I not stayed in the nice wing of the hospital with the single rooms, it would have been half or one-third that). [Note: If you want to see some NSFW pictures, do a Google image search for "appendix scar." Lately I've noticed that about one-third of my innocuous Google image searches yield dirty pictures of some kind. Sick fu¢ks.]

Anyway, I wonder what would have happened had I not been able to pay any money up front. As a grad student whose dollars have depleted (the horrible KRW-USD exchange rate has basically made me not touch my Korea-based savings or credit cards at all), I would be hard pressed to come up with $1000, which is what W1 million was at the time. Would they have booted me out? Would I have had to wait until I was closer to death's door, when the exact same surgery would have been more dangerous, with a higher fatality rate, and possibly even more expensive?

It's time we start treating humans humanely, regardless of what borders they've crossed and how.

(By the way, if you have a visa sponsor, which you would if you have an E1 or E2 visa, then your sponsor is legally responsible for your non-payment. While I wouldn't go around not paying for stuff, it's something you mention to whomever isn't willing to let you get something like surgery up front without paying. Call your sponsor if you have to. The importance of sponsorship is the key reason why one cannot so easily leave one's visa venue and go work for another.)

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