Filipino Worker With No Insurance Slapped With $24,000 Medical Bill in New Zealand

A Filipino construction worker in Christchurch, New Zealand found himself accountable for a medical bill amounting to $24,000 after failed to avail of medical insurance upon arrival in the country.

Renato Tolog, 55, arrived in Christchurch one a one-year work visa in March. However, in September, he fell ill and diagnosed with appendicitis. His appendix was later removed at Christchurch Hospital. But when he was discharged after the surgery he was billed $14,619.72, according to a report by Stuff.

Two weeks later, he developed an infection and returned to hospital for treatment with intravenous antibiotics. His medical bill further soared by $9,497.

“When I saw [the bill] I knew I could not afford to pay it,” he said.

It is understood that under prevailing laws in New Zealand, migrant workers are not eligible for public healthcare services unless they arrive on a two-year work visa.

Tolog earlier paid $1750 to New Zealand company Heartland Immigration, to process his application for a one-year work visa. A counterpart Filipino agency, Long Term Recruitment arranged a work contract with Canterbury company Canstaff and Tolog began work when he arrived in Christchurch.

None of those companies, Tolog said, advised him to get health insurance.

Heartland Immigration manager Mary Noonan said insurance was recommended to applicants “if they ask”, but it was not a requirement under the immigration advisers licence.

“In general terms we recommend people take out medical insurance but not everyone will be covered.”

Canstaff managing director Matt Jones echoed Noonan, saying that getting health insurance is up to migrant workers if they wanted to.

“We talk about the public and private health systems available in New Zealand and it’s up to them whether they get insurance,” he said.

A friend of Tolog’s from the Seventh Day Adventist Church he attends set up a fundraising page to help him repay his debt.

Jones, however, said that Canstaff is trying to reach out to Tolog, whose visa expires in March, with “some ideas to help him out.”

Upon expiration of visa, Tolog said he plans to apply for an extension.

According to Jones, most visas were initially for one year only as forecasting labor needs two to five years ahead was difficult.

To many Filipino workers, health insurance is a cost they don’t have luxury of spending on, said Turbo Staff managing director Ihaka Rongonui, even though staff were given information about healthcare situation in New Zealand.

Most workers were sending 99 per cent of their earnings to family in the Philippines and would prefer to spend the extra $5 a week for insurance back home, Rongonui said.

According to Immigration New Zealand, among all migrant workers currently in the Canterbury region, 32 per cent, or 3237 are Filipino citizens.

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