An Adelaide doctor helps young women without Medicare see their pregnancies through
Nitin and Rekha (names changed) are a young couple who came to Australia to make a better life. A few months after arriving Rekha realised that she was expecting their first child. Her joy however was short lived when after her initial visit to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the couple was told because they were on the Skilled Migrant Visa and did not have the medical insurance to cover the cost of the pregnancy, they ought to abort the child or face a hefty medical bill.
The couple was shocked and confused. $17000 was beyond their capacity, as well as the costs of setting up for a child. With heavy hearts and under great pressure they went to the abortion clinic in Woodville. As luck would have it, they were approached by a Good Samaritan who asked if there was anything she could do to help them save the baby.
“Mothers without Medicare” is this service, and their lives were changed.
Today Nitin and Rekha have a lovely healthy child and are thankful to the Good Samaritan who came to their rescue. They have since paid back this loan to enable another couple to benefit.
This is the situation facing many recent migrants to Australia, especially many families from India and those on Skilled Migration Visa. Often Health Insurance will not cover pregnancy. The average cost of delivery can be from $7500 or if complicated up to $20,000 and higher. Couples, confused and under pressure, are often directed to the abortion clinic. It will cost $2800, still a large sum, but much less than the cost of delivery and associated ongoing cost of child rearing.
“This is a scandal,” says Adelaide GP Dr. Antonia Turnbull. “To say to someone in Australia that we cannot help you have your baby, is a scandal”.
After receiving many new migrants in such a situation, Dr Turnbull decided to spearhead a campaign in South Australia to help women without Medicare have their child.
“Pregnancy is not a disease as the insurance companies call it, and it may seem like a disaster but people simply need support.”
For many young couples in a new country without the support networks of home, an unplanned pregnancy can be a confusing and very daunting thing.
Dr. Turnbull has seen 20 couples in Adelaide and assisted them through the group Mothers Without Medicare. It is neither a formal organisation nor does she have the time to publicise it, but she sees it as an extremely important service.
“I just respond to situations. Couples are sent to me as they know I try to help and so we do”.
The original idea was to set up a fund as a loan system.
“The money is not for us to keep,” she says. “It is for us to move around where it is needed. These couples can’t pay now but they will be able to in the future. When they can, they can return the money and help fund another life and another couple’s future. It’s a wonderful thing”
Her first case was very touching.
“A young Chinese couple came to me. they were both on Student Visas. Their health insurance did not cover pregnancy. They could not go back to China. They were advised to abort but didn’t want to, and had very little money. Eventually we found a wealthy donor who funded the birth. That child is now 20, a beautiful young woman, all because of that donor”.
It is a powerful story, one that Dr. Turnbull relates with a tear in her eye, obviously inspired by the gift of a life which continues to touch people on and on.
“It makes me angry that in this lucky country, we are saying they cannot have a child. This gave me the energy to do something about it”.
Dr. Turnbull approached Birthline Pregnancy Support Inc. who agreed to the plan and accordingly opened an appeal account with ANZ Bank.
Many people have been happy to help Mothers Without Medicare. Dr. Turnbull’s hope is that more people will donate the cost of a coffee per week to help people give birth.
The loans would cover the normal costs for these couples:
* private medibank insurance for the baby for a year about $1,700.
* a midwife to care for the mother and child through the ante-natal period, for the delivery and for care up to six weeks postpartum $3,000.
* the hospital cost of the delivery which if simple costs $7,500 and if complicated could be as much as $20,000.
“The basic idea is be part of the solution: don’t allow our country to say to anyone you can’t afford to have a child,” says Dr. Turnbull.
Word is spread by emails to friends and groups explaining to them the idea of raising funds for a good cause. Other than some of her doctor friends, Dr. Turnbull is also assisted by her husband Bob Turnbull who actively shares the responsibility to help Mothers Without Medicare.
One of the major issues Dr Turnbull sees in treating migrant communities is that they often hide their biggest struggles from their closest networks. There is a perception of shame and embarrassment especially in financial hardship. This makes it all doubly worse for people who are in this state of confusion.
“They don’t feel like they can get help or support from their community in fact they just cut themselves off in pain to save face and the social stigma attached to the issue,” Dr. Turnbull said.
“At the moment the challenge is to have more and more doctors come on board to say we shall help mothers without Medicare and give them the best treatment and charge them smaller amounts. We also need to get more donors on board”.
She adds, “We also want to open up the issue and talk to community networks like religious organisations the gurudwaras, churches, temples and mosques. We need to respond as a whole community: it is not just the responsibility of that community, it is all society that needs to help out, and we can”.
Dr Turnbull is very keen to talk to these communities and groups about the issue and tell them how to set up a fund and what services are available to them.
This is not just about abortion but about supporting people. It is another symptomatic issue stemming from the separation of communities. The issues we face are the same across the board, for established Australians and new migrants. Cross-cultural friendships and networks need to be encouraged and actually are essential.
To support MOTHERS WITHOUT MEDICARE contact:
Dr Toni Turnbull, Marden Medical Clinic, Marden SA 5070.
Birth line Pregnancy Support Inc.
412 Magill Rd Kensington Gardens SA 5068
(08) 8331 1223
(ABN 58 798 576 758)
Cheques can be made payable to the Birthline Appeal fund or directly to ANZ Bank (BSB 015-310, Account no. 6360-23558. Any amount above $2.00 is tax deductible).