Mainland women banned from giving birth at private hospitals
MAY 6 — What’s a Chinese woman to do these days in order to give birth? Corralled away from public hospitals and now banned from private ones, it’s as if Hong Kong is shooing them away.
Mainland mothers-to-be are spinning in their tented maternity dresses after the newly-elected chief executive’s announcement that private hospitals will be off-limits to them.
Pre-elections, Leung Chun Ying’s stand was that mainland women would be able to pay private hospitals for obstetric services, subject to a quota.
In a move that is seen as an attempt to boost his popularity, Leung did an about-turn shortly after winning the election and announced that a zero quota policy in private hospitals will take effect next year.
The ban will not apply to mainland women with Hong Kong husbands.
The news took many by surprise as the Private Hospitals Association had been in talks with previous chief executive Donald Tsang’s administration to reduce the quota of hospital beds from this year’s 31,000 to as low as 20,000 next year.
Private hospitals have been attracting expectant patients with deep pockets, particularly after the govenrment’s announcement back in 2010 that the number of pregnant mainlanders delivering in public hospitals would be drastically cut down with effect from early 2011.
A quota of 3,400 has been set for public hospitals this year, down from 10,000 last year.
Another stunning promise from the CE is that children born to mainland parents will not be guaranteed local permanent residency.
The trinity of a HK birth certificate, medical benefits and quality public education have been luring neighbours from across the border over recent years.
Government statistics show that the number of pregnant mainlanders in Hong Kong increased from 620 in 2001 to 35,736 in 2011. Last year mainlanders accounted for 40 per cent of births.
Hong Kong immigration laws permit any child, regardless of nationality, to be given permanent resident status. This has been a major draw for mainlanders as along with permanent residency comes almost-free and better quality of healthcare and a ticket to heavily-subsidised education.
Babies born to foreigners of other nationalities are not accorded permanent residency, except those with Chinese lineage.
Giving birth in Hong Kong also skirts around China’s one-child policy.
While the ban has put the government back in the good books of frustrated locals, it still begs the question of why the singling out of mainland women?
Is it their sheer numbers? Their loud conversations? Allowing their children to pee on the roadside? Their lack of respect for personal space? Whatever the reason, it smacks of discrimination, especially when other foreigners are not subject to the same ruling.
There are so many other foreigners taking up precious hospital beds. I was one of them. I am grateful for the privilege to receive top class care for next-to-nothing. Should another woman be denied the same because her nationality has been singled out?
The difference is I live here, whereas many mainland mothers cross the border just to deliver.
Some travel a week earlier and put up in the city until the baby comes. They then head back to China, returning daily when the child begins kindergarten and, as detractors will argue, use up precious resources.
This phenomenon has been named birth tourism. Just like Thailand which is famous for its affordable and speedy annual medical checkups and plastic surgery weekend getaways, Hong Kong is all about gaining permanent residency.
When the ban to access public healthcare for pregnant mainlanders came into effect, there was a flood of bookings at private hospitals.
I noticed that while the public hospital I went to had become relatively quieter (lots of empty plastic seats in the waiting area), the private hospital I visited for my milestone checkups (public hospitals do not provide copies of scans) was packed with mainland parents. The average time I spent per visit was two hours, same as the public hospital.
Everyone of the women toted a monogrammed designer bag. Never mind that a two-night stay would set them back close to HK$100,000 (RM39,000). That said, the same stay at a public hospital is not cheap either as non-residents have to fork out HK$40,000 compared to the HK$250 residents pay.
Nonetheless, demand is still strong. A friend who is seven weeks pregnant was informed by her hospital of choice that there are no more beds available.
As Hong Kong population ages, it would seem that encouraging more births here would help to boost population growth. Yet how many foreigners choose to live here long term?
Also the city needs to be picky about the quality of the people admitted as residents. She does not need more people dependent on benefits.
So it is left up to the wily mainland mother to figure out a new way in. Devoted mothers will go to extraordinary lengths to give their babies a good start in life — even if it means charging into the A&E to give birth.
* The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.