A Christchurch company has forked out thousands of dollars to help Filipino workers who have no health insurance and are not eligible under the public health system.
The number of uninsured workers facing exorbitant health bills is growing, prompting the Christchurch Migrant Centre Trust to run two seminars on the topic in the coming weeks.
Migrant workers are not eligible for publicly-funded healthcare unless they have a minimum two-year work visa.
Last month, recruitment company Turbo Staff fundraised $13,000 to help Filipino employee Glenn Ortega get treatment for a kidney condition.
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Turbo Staff managing director Ihaka Rongonui said the company contributed $2000 towards Ortega’s medical bills before the fundraiser and had helped two other uninsured employees face medical costs in the past couple of years.
Ortega arrived in Christchurch a year ago on a 12-month visa to work as a mechanical pipe fitter – a sub trade of plumbing.
He left two children and his wife, who became paralysed after a stroke four years ago, and his mother behind to come here and sent them all the money he earned.
He said he did not have any extra for health insurance.
He began having health problems at the end of last year.
Turbo Staff covered his medical costs, but Ortega was eventually diagnosed with stage four kidney dysfunction.
Ortega decided to go back to the Philippines so he could have family support, but said he was hoping to come back to Christchurch once he got better.
Rongonui said Turbo Staff would send the money it raised to Ortega’s medical centre at the end of the month.
Rongonui said most Filipino workers did not get medical insurance.
“We advise our migrant staff to get health insurance, but many of them land here in very bad financial shape.
“Every dollar counts when they are sending their money home for their families.”
Turbo Staff considered getting health insurance for its migrant workers, but it proved too difficult to obtain the required past health history, Rongonui said.
“We opted to instead support our workers when they needed medical assistance.”
Rongonui believed it was the company’s responsibility to help staff pay for medical bills.
“We have brought them out of their own country because there are not enough skilled workers here.”
Christchurch Migrant Centre Trust Filipino liaison manager Delia Richards said health insurance was becoming the “number one problem” for Filipino workers, but they did not recognise the importance of getting it.
“We rely on relatives much more for helping each other.”
Richards would run two seminars in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the issue.
Health Funds Association of New Zealand chief executive Roger Styles said most health insurers in New Zealand required policy holders to have entitlement in the public health system before they would provide cover.
Migrant workers were more likely to organise cover from their country of origin, he said.
The Canterbury District Health Board collected $6.4 million from overseas patients over the last two financial years.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) area manager Darren Calder said all visitors coming to New Zealand were strongly encouraged to get medical cover.
Some visa categories required an applicant to hold medical insurance, but the one-year work visa did not.
“It would be impractical to require all temporary visa holders to hold insurance.”
Calder said 557 Filipino nationals were granted work visas associated with the Canterbury rebuild in the last nine months.
At the end of last year, 32 per cent of all migrant workers in the Canterbury region, or 3237, were Filipino. INZ was not able to say what proportion of those workers were on a 12-month visa.