24 JANUARY 2008
ALSO IN THIS MONTH'S FEATURES
i R E P O R T — S U R V I V I N G S A N S A F I N A N C I A L S A F E T Y N E T
I KEEP saying our bill, because in this country, no one really gets sick alone. Not when you have your family. And your friends. I witnessed this during my family’s emergencies and in those of others. At the PCSO, which turned out to be our biggest savior, I met the wife of Kuya’s ICU “neighbor.” Already burning with fever due to fatigue and worry on how she was going to pay her husband’s hospital bills, she had been waiting for hours to have her name called so she could ask for help. Her husband’s bill by then had already reached P300,000. Her only prayer, she said, was that she would walk out of the PCSO building with a guarantee letter in hand that she could give to the Heart Center.
There was also this old woman I met in one of the hospital’s restrooms who told me, a complete stranger, that her granddaughter could not be discharged until they settled her account. Her apo was suffering from a congenital heart disease; the grandmother said their family, who hailed all the way from Negros Occidental, was counting on support from relatives abroad to see them through.
I have to admit that compared to them, we had it fairly easy. But then after he was discharged, Kuya still needed post-hospital care, which had its own set of price tags. There were the maintenance drugs that totaled some P5,000 a month, physical therapy sessions to regain his strength, and occupational and speech therapy sessions to address his expressive aphasia, a condition caused by stroke wherein the individual cannot express himself through speech or writing. My big brother had to study his alphabet and arithmetic all over again, as well as hone his reading and writing skills with the support of a professional occupational therapist.
My sorority sisters and members of our partner-fraternity provided contacts who could help my family pay for all these. Some of my former schoolmates who were working with politicians found ways to provide us with medical assistance through their bosses’ allocations. There were also financial contributions from other friends and relatives here and overseas.
By late August last year, Kuya was well on his way to recovery. And there was another great piece of news: I was going to have a baby! As soon as we learned about my pregnancy, my partner and I began setting aside an amount monthly, not only to prepare for Rafael’s coming, but also so we could move to a bigger place later. I began paying more attention to having up-to-date SSS and PhilHealth payments because claims from these would be helpful during childbirth.
At around this time, however, Papa’s stomachaches began becoming more frequent. A trip to the gastroenterologist resulted in an order for a battery of tests.
From August to December, Papa had to undergo ultrasound, enema, and blood tests, as well as urinalyses, and the more expensive CT scans and colonoscopy. That meant less money for my “baby kitty,” but the doctor had to be certain what was wrong with Papa. The tests cost thousands of pesos, and that was even though Papa availed of his senior citizen’s discount.
IF ONLY the tests showed that all he had was just indigestion. Unfortunately, the colonoscopy indicated colon cancer, and the doctors advised immediate surgery to prevent complications and to arrest the problem at its early stage. The amount needed within weeks: a minimum of P100,000 for the procedure only, excluding professional fees.
But just like in Kuya’s case, a combination of miracle, luck, knowing the right people, and having the right strategies helped us cope with the costs of Papa’s hospitalization and surgery. By then I could even joke that we seemed to be always “blessed” whenever one of us had to be hospitalized. There we were with neither insurance nor any real money, but each time, we received the best medical care that those coming from lower to middle-income families like ours could never imagine receiving.
Actually, seven years before, we had experienced a similar kind of blessing in what could have been one of our darkest hours. Mama had to undergo a triple heart bypass — and despite our lack of money, she was attended to by the same set of doctors who operate on showbiz celebrities, politicians, and business moguls. We later learned that the procedure alone would have cost something like P1.5 million. Yet Mama was asked to pay only P100,000 because a distant relative who happened to be sitting in the (private) hospital’s board intervened on our behalf.
That relative was no longer there when the time came for Papa to have his colon surgery at the same hospital. But we still knew enough people — one of whom was my eldest cousin — who could help Papa get into the hospital’s list of Health Service Program (HSP) beneficiaries. By being included in the list, one gets to avail of procedures that cost way, way below the original price, apart from discount privileges to as high as 30 percent and waived doctors’ fees. HSP also honors discounts for PhilHealth members.
So last December 28, while most people were busy preparing for the New Year, one of the best surgical teams in that private hospital worked on Papa to remove the tumor in his colon. The price: P87,000 for surgery that normally costs as much as P300,000. Aside from instant loans with interest from the respective offices of my sister-in-law and cousin, we paid the bill with part of my “baby kitty,” plus donations and small loans from relatives.
It was my family’s first time to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a hospital, and it was quite a unique experience. We had our Media Noche delivered courtesy of our relatives and enjoyed a safe and smoke-free celebration, which was good for my baby, too. But our best aguinaldo this New Year has been Papa’s quick recovery, as well as his latest biopsy results that indicate no more traces of cancer.
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