No bitaqah in the land of the free

It's funny how most people think that in the US, its citizens have everything. I floored my doctor when I told her that in the US, a bitaqah, a health card that guarantees free healthcare and services for UAE nationals and discounted services for UAE residents, doesn't exist at all in America. I only wish that we had it so good just once. Sigh.

By Maryam Ismail (Life)

Published: Wed 25 Jun 2008, 11:26 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:23 PM

After five long years away from my hometown, Newark, New Jersey, I found myself in need of health services when the youngest of my two daughters was afflicted with a rash that covered her entire body.

We were like other illegal immigrants, without paperwork to show our address, social security cards, birth certificates, proof of income, and finally, insurance, the red, itchy skin of a four year old, didn't mean anything.

This is the plight of everyone in the US urban centres where there are masses of poor. In cities like mine, you have to fly somewhere over the rainbow. Before I left, our neighbourhood hospital was shut down after the top managers embezzled all of the newly awarded government funds.

The Crippled Children's hospital where my sister recuperated after being hit by a car is now a vacant lot. And while there are three other smaller hospitals, they don't have full facilities. What good is insurance, if the hospital is not there or can't give you the services that you need?

I finally went to the City Clinic. It used to be a free walk-in clinic. It was there that I got my school shots long ago. I managed to see a nurse, but I was turned away for not having an electric bill as proof of address or a birth certificate to prove that I was my daughter's mother and legal guardian.

Yeah, I guess I could have gone to the suburbs, and looked for a doctor that would have cost me a flat $250 and a bunch of bills later would trail me all the way back to Sharjah and would have prevented any future ambitions of getting an apartment, buying a car, or home for posterity if I ever thought of resettling anywhere in the United States.

Meanwhile, my daughter was rapidly scratching her skin off as it turned it bristly like a brush. Both of us were going crazy. I visited a friend who had her own private organic pharmacy; I used everything she had but all to no avail.

Finally, I happened to go into the local hijab store (yes, in America, there are such places). The salesperson and her customer happened to have experienced the same problem. They gave the advice that worked. Better than the doctor and no need for insurance.

This simple story was not a tragedy for me. But it is for many in the US, even for the middle class and well to-do. A sudden illness can be catastrophic for many. The problem has reached such proportions that it has become talk show fodder in which advice is given on how to not get ripped-off.

As for those who want to get rid of the UAE's federal healthcare system and do away with the bitaqah, should learn from the US even basic health services are denied to its citizens.

Maryam Ismail is a Sharjah-based writer

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