I introduce myself as a visitor to the U.S. In the course of my interactions with my relatives and friends here, I was told that one of the issues which frequently nags the minds of Indian Americans is the problem of visitors from India — parents, brothers, sisters or other relations and friends visiting them at their invitation — falling seriously ill. Coverage by insurance companies is limited and they do not cover pre-existing conditions. Usually, the tendency of the insurance companies is to avoid paying claims to the extent possible or keep it to the unavoidable minimum.

Mostly, the visitors are elderly persons with one or the other pre-existing health problems and when they fall ill in the U.S. and the illness turns out to be serious and life threatening, hospital treatment expenses may mount to such an extent that the host may be financially broke and may be ruined. Such instances may not be common but I was told that they do occur now and then.

There may be other emergencies which may be faced by Indian Americans themselves like heavy loss of property due to a natural or man-made calamity like burglary, riots, loss of business due to hate crimes, loss of employment faced by a person when he is already in dire straits due to ill health of family members, e.g., a handicapped child requiring special treatment, rehabilitation, etc. Insurance companies may not reimburse the expenses/losses in full in all cases. The family in such cases may need special assistance.

To meet such contingencies, I suggest Indian Americans set up an "Indian American Emergency Relief Fund.” The Fund should be created by contributions every month for a certain period, say three to five years. The contribution should be a certain minimum, based on the income of the persons.

There are four million Americans of Indian origin in the U.S. and assuming that one-third of them are income earners and only a million of them regularly contribute and taking their average monthly contribution as say $20-30, the amount collected over a period of three to five years will be substantial. The Indian companies operating here should be persuaded to contribute to this Fund as a welfare measure for their employees and they should be allowed to treat the contribution as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility with tax benefits to be allowed by the Indian Government.

Apart from Indian Americans, the visitors themselves should contribute a certain minimum to the Fund for each of their visits. The Indian Government should be prevailed upon to contribute liberally, as Indian Americans make a significant contribution to Indian economy.

With the above contributions, it should be possible to accumulate a substantial sum.

The Fund should be administered by a Trust, managed by eminent Indian Americans from different walks of life—doctors, engineers, finance and insurance experts, economists, social workers, etc. The Indian ambassador to the U.S. and consuls-general should be also members, to facilitate financial and other help from the Indian Government..

The Trust will administer the Fund and give financial aid to the needy, deserving Indian Americans after proper scrutiny, to avoid misuse of aid. The Trust should have a committee to scrutinize the claims received. In the case of claims for medical treatment, the opinion of specialists may be obtained to ascertain that the claim is genuine. For instance, a person having a serious heart ailment should not be allowed to claim for treatment in the U.S. unless it is established that his condition worsened after his coming to the U.S.

Claims for treatments which are not in the nature of an emergency after arrival in the U.S. should not be entertained. It should be possible for expert doctors to ascertain that the patient required emergency medical treatment after his arrival in U.S. Cases of medical treatments which can wait and where the person can go back to India to get himself treated, should be out of the purview of the Fund.

Similarly, for other claims like loss of property, etc., the Trust will devise its system of scrutiny.

The Trust should devise its own system of maintaining account of contributions and aid given, investment of its funds, etc. A committee may be set up for this purpose.

The above proposal is in the nature of social or community insurance, as normal insurance will not cover these special types of risks. This is to ensure that the Indian American community as a whole extends its hand of help to fellow members of the community in times of dire distress. This is similar to the now mostly defunct Hindu joint family system.

There will be opposition to this idea, as normally, the person who invites his parent, relative or friend to the U.S. should take the responsibility of medical care of the guest and there will be questions as to why the other members of the community should be burdened with individual liabilities. But the answer to such questions is that the Fund is intended to meet extraordinary situations not covered by normal insurance. The community as a whole stands to benefit.

There may not be many claims on the Fund and either the excess amount in the Fund can be returned on a proportionate basis to the contributors or the surplus in the Fund may be used for community activities, like giving scholarships to needy, deserving students, building/leasing community halls, etc.

V. Swaminathan

 San Jose, Calif. 

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