Hospital Surcharge for Foreigners in Mumbai

Top story: Foreigners in Mumbai are made to pay a 25% surcharge for medical care!!!

OK, it’s not a top story, but it sure feels like it when one has lived in Mumbai for several years, is a law abiding citizen, has paid his/her share of taxes, and is seeking the same level of medical care as any average Indian. The only difference is that when a foreigner gets the hospital bill, there is a 25% hike in the cost.

Several expats whom I have encountered have faced this problem in Mumbai, and I am assuming it is a disease that is spread across the rest of India. What is strange though, is while some hospitals have this 25% hike, other hospitals in Mumbai have not adopted this policy. Clearly, this hike is not a state regulated policy and has been conveniently utilized by certain hospitals who believe that foreigners should be paying a higher price than the locals. For instance, hospitals, such as Kokila Behn (in Aandheri) have this 25% surcharge, while others, such as Hiranandani (in Powai) and Seven Hills (in Andheri) and Breach Candy Hospital (in South Mumbai), do not impose such surcharges.

I am perplexed, even disturbed, by the idea that foreigners who are here on legal working visas or are even spouses of Indian citizens are mandated to pay more than the actual charge. One of my friends, though she is not an Indian citizen, is as good as being one because she posses the “PIO” (Person of Indian Origin), a life long Indian visa akin to the “Green Card” of the USA. Even she was asked to pay the surcharge of 25%. I am not entirely sure why some hospitals have this mandate, but it sure seems unfair and a serious case of discrimination and poor ethics.

When I lived in the USA, I never had to pay any “extra” fees or costs for any of the governmental services, be it the hospitals, Social Security, calling 911, my college fees, including my Federal and State taxes. I felt like I was treated no different from the locals, when it came to the above. I can understand that, if I were a tourist and visiting the country for a very short time, I may be charged a slightly higher fee because I do not pay taxes in the host country, and therefore do not contribute to the economy. But what business does any organization have charging a foreign “resident” a surcharge on medical care solely based on the passport of an individual or the color of their skin?

And what’s infuriating is that, even within the hospital that has these surcharges, only some foreigners end up paying the surcharge, while others walk away like nothing ever happened. Let me illustrate, if you may. The friend of mine, whom I was alluding to earlier, was in line for the cashier’s counter to pay off her hospital bill. The person ahead of her was a British Caucasian man. When he got his bill, it included the 25% surcharge and the man was politely informed that he had no choice but to pay the full amount. “This is just the hospital policy”, he was told. Then it was my friend’s turn and, sensing her foreign accent (even though she is American-Indian), was immediately asked her for proof of citizenship. When she whipped out her PIO card, she was told she needed to pay the surcharge because she was not a citizen of India. It was plain and simple as that! So she stepped aside and the lady behind her, who looked and sounded Indian, but was actually a Canadian-Indian (my friend knew because she got chatting with her while in line), was not even asked what her citizenship status was. There was no inquiry made, whatsoever. My friend was, naturally, infuriated.

Bottom line is: there is no standard policy on this 25% surcharge in hospitals in Mumbai, let alone India. Yet, some hospitals are thriving on this surcharge and believe their policy is fair and square. I personally am embarrassed by this stupidity and sincerely hope that this policy be abandoned. Currently, there is a petition that is being signed by expats and non-expats who are against this policy. My gut feeling is that, being India, this petition will only go so far. But I still think there is hope and sight, and more to be determined in the next few months.


Cheeky, cheeky!

Mumbai is a city with attitude, and I am talking serious attitude…..right from Bollywood stars to the middle class person to the little street urchins (that add to the beautification of the city – don’t; mind the sarcasm). When I am out and about, I am always expecting some kind of attitude or another from the Mumbaikers, be it rich, middle class, or the poor folk. It’s just a given when you live in a city, such as Mumbai.

On Sunday, I went for a casual walk to Carter Road, a lovely promenade in Bandra West. I saw this sweet little bigger girl peering into a shop window, probably hungry or greedy, trying to earn her wages so that she could exchange it for food when she got home to her parents (who were also beggars). I really felt sorry for the little one and, although my usual tendency is to walk past beggars (because how many beggars can you feed?), I decided to give her a packet of biscuits that I usually carry for the stray dogs. Just so you know, as an animal lover, I am always carrying biscuits for the city’s innumerable dogs. I don’t like giving money to beggars as I believe it just perpetuates this cycle of begging and not being proactive in looking for work. So, I prefer giving them food. I tapped the girl on her shoulder and handed her the biscuit packet. I was very touched when she said “shukriya” (an Urdu word for thank you). I continued walking on and was a little stunned when I saw the little one following me. I figured she probably just wanted some money and was trying her luck with me….little did I know what she really was going to do.

She proceeded to do exactly what I suspected….begged for money, for a rupee, making me feel guilty for not indulging her….this little girl was probably a quarter my size and was so determined to get something out of me. I told her that I had already given her the biscuits and she should now leave me alone. She persisted. I insisted. And finally, the cheeky one mustered up the courage and point-blank told me that she did not want the biscuits. I was shocked and infuriated, and I snatched the packet from her and put it back in my bag. As I continued to speed along, the begging continued, until her older sister stepped in and pulled her away.

I was really amazed by the girl’s audacity to return the food back to me…..but then it struck me….this girl was not begging because she was really hungry, she was but a mere worker, put to work by her parents who probably instructed her that she should not accept anything less than money. She must have been all of 4 or 5 years old, dressed in a long skirt and tattered shirt, her face dotted with a runny nose. She was scuffed up and adorable….but had an attitude that even I couldn’t match up to!

Begging is still a bustling and lucrative profession in Mumbai. With a population of around 23 million people, this may just be a beggar’s paradise….so why accept food, when you can aim for (and get) the big bucks?

Ganesh Chatturthi (GC) is finally over!

With all due to respect to my Hindu friends and relatives, GC is finally over. Yes, the festival dedicated to Lord Ganesha, one of India’s most favored and adorable god, has come to a close. It officially started on the 19th of September and the final day, which consisted of processions and immersions, culminated on September 29th.

I’d like to share the origins of GC, commemorating its original purpose in India. The birth of Lord Ganesha was always celebrated in the Hindu calendar. However, it became a public and communal event when, Lokmanya Tilak (one of the Freedom Fighters of India) started encouraging the celebration of the Hindu festival within the larger community. In 1893, Tilak saw to it that the Hindu festival became a public event, as he realized the universal appeal of the deity Ganesha and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order. It is believed he did this in order to lessen the widening gap between the several castes and to increase a patriotic attitude among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule.Tilak was the first to install large idols of Ganesh in public, and also established the practice of submerging these idols in rivers, seas, or other pools of water on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.

This idea of communal celebration and nationalism has continued to-date; unfortunately, it has been transformed, at least in my opinion, to a mockery of sorts, having the original spirit of the festival dissolve with time. I use the word “mockery” because of the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that are now associated with GC. The incredibly loud music (which highly contributes to sound pollution), the inappropriate music (such as that from Bollywood films and other pop music), the incessant burning and bursting of fire crackers (which highly contributes to air pollution), the inconveniences that are caused as a result of these processions (eg: major traffic jams, late night festivities when the next day is a working day, etc) and the (sometimes) bad behaviors exhibited by men, are all factors that have stripped the original meaning and spirit of GC.

I love Lord Ganesha – he is a sweet, pot bellied, charming little elephant that makes me smile every time I meet his eyes. As previously mentioned, during the 10 day festival, idols of all shapes and sizes are erected all over the city. Here is a picture of one near my house:

Those 10 days are relatively calm and it’s spiritually uplifting to see an idol at practically every corner of the street in Mumbai. It is on the last day that all chaos breaks loose and my appreciation for GC melts as fast at the ice caps of the North Pole!

On the final day, hoards of people carry the idol in huge trucks and/or bullock carts, making their way to the sea, where they will immerse the deity in its final resting place. The Times of India reported that, this year alone, over 2 Lakh (2,00,000) idols were immersed in the sea in Mumbai. Traditionally, most of these idols have been made of plaster-of-Paris, a material that is non-biodegradable and insoluble in water, and very toxic for the environment. More recently, a lot more efforts have been made to create “eco-friendly” Ganeshas. Even then, I am not completely convinced that immersing these so called eco-friendly Ganeshas are any better than the ones made of POP.

In some parts of Mumbai, people have created artificial pools in which they temporarily immerse the idol, and then take it back to their homes and recycle it for the next year. Please take note of the evidence of the pollution I am talking about:

Tons of GC paraphanellia and other junk washed up on the shore

Tons of GC paraphernalia and other junk washed up on the shore

Hope more people follow this message next year:

Every year, Mumbai hits a new record with the noise pollution levels during GC, and this year has been the highest. I really hope that more of us return to the original spirit of GC and that Lord Ganehs does bless us with the much needed wisdom and inspiration to keep this festival as green as possible!