The story is heart breaking and we feel it’s important for us to cover this.
About 10 days ago, a Singapore family left for Tokyo on a holiday to celebrate their mother’s remission from cancer. Unfortunately, shortly after they arrive in Tokyo, their father went into cardiac arrest and had to be immediately resuscitated and subsequently admitted to the ICU of Toho Medical University Omori Hospital. This was on 19 April 2017.
As of the point in writing, the father, 62 year-old Mr Jimi Cheong, is still currently in a coma in the hospital and the family is in Tokyo.
Emergency Overseas Medical Bill Can Be Scarily Astronomical
Seeing a loved one needing immediate medical attention due to cardiac arrest is scary as it is. Unless you are a trained practitioner, nobody is ever prepared for this.
Now imagine if this happens overseas, where you have no one you know to turn to for help, or where the language barrier on its own is already a challenge.
Most people are not familiar with healthcare cost in Singapore, let alone, in a foreign country. We wrote in a previous article that healthcare cost in other countries could be drastically different from Singapore. In fact, it’s so exorbitantly high that medical expense is the number one cause of personal bankruptcies in the U.S.
Typically, most of us don’t feel the full brunt of healthcare cost in Singapore because we have medical insurance, be it a basic MediShield Life plan or a private integrated shield plan. Yet, coverage provided by these plans is only extended to treatments in Singapore hospitals. Any medical emergency treatment required and consumed overseas would need to be paid using cash by individuals.
In the case for the family, we understand that the medical bill in the hospital was S$40,000 just for the first night, and about S$10,000 for every subsequent night in ICU. According to the daughter, Eileen Cheong, the current bill was about S$120,000 about a week after hospital admission. We suspect the current bill would be much more by now.
No Claim From Travel Insurance
Typically, this would a solemn reminder of the importance of why we should buy travel insurance before we travel overseas, and how it can protect us from hefty medical cost.
Here’s the thing though, Eileen and her family did buy travel insurance.
However, it was only after her father was hospitalised and the subsequent decline of their travel insurance company to provide a letter of guarantee to cover the hospital bill, that they realised that they are unlikely to make a successful claim for the overseas hospital bill incurred. The reason given was that because the father has a pre-existing heart condition, and that his collapse was related to a heart failure, that the insurance coverage does not apply.
On hindsight, this is a scary and risky proposition. The reason why we buy travel insurance is to have a peace of mind during our trips and to protect ourselves against any unfortunate incident, including hospitalisation, which could saddle us with a major bill.
Yet, as we now found out, our ability to claim may depend on whether or not we have any pre-existing illness. That means any Singaporean who have some form of pre-existing illness need to be extra careful about travelling overseas, less they require emergency medical treatment, which they cannot claim from the insurance company.
So the hard lesson here is to look through travel insurance fine prints to see what you can claim and what you can’t claim, before you even buy them.
Donate If You Can
There is a fundraising page that has been set up on Give Asia to help raise funds for the family so that they can cope with the hospitalisation bill in Japan as well as pay for the medical evacuation to bring him home to Singapore.
In total, the page hopes to raise $250,000. We are not sure if that’s going to be enough, as we understand the bill is still accumulating even as you read this article, and will continue to accumulate the longer the family stays in Japan. But that’s what the family is hoping to raise.
This amount does NOT include the additional cost that the family will be incurring for treatments once they are hopefully back in Singapore. We do hope however that once they are in Singapore, the cost of treatment will be lower with insurance coverage provided, as compared to being stuck in Japan with no insurance coverage.
If you can afford, do contribute a little as every dollar counts for the family.
Updated: The fund raising has ended successfully. Thank you for contributing.