A 64-year-old American has been living in Chongqing since 2001 without any medical insurance

At the ages of 54, I retired in April 2001 from a US Fortune 500 company in San Francisco. According to US law, I was given an 18-month medical coverage if I pay what my company used to pay for me to CIGNA, one of the largest US insurance companies.

It was frequently reported that US insurance companies treat individual policyholders much worse than their group policyholders for obvious reasons and I was given a hard time on my reimbursement right after I became an individual policyholder. I therefore cancelled my policy.

You may think I must be in good health.

As a matter of fact, I took early retirement just because of my physical conditions. How could I live without any medical coverage?

However, CIGNA charged me US$500/month at that time and I BET I would not spend that much on medical in China!

Now that I am 10 months away from US Medicare and I have been hospitalized at least 10 times for about 700 days (yes, 700, not a typo!) since 2001 with less than RMB 100K (about US$1500/yr) total medical spending (I deducted RMB 800/mth rent because I LIVED in hospital without having to rent.)

You might say I must have my medical service at some shabby places.

The answer is I have had 99% medical services with the best and largest hospital in Chongqing, namely First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University. Since 2003, I have been renting my apartment just one bus stop from the hospital intentionally. Moreover, I have been taking Norvasc, the absolutely most popular drug for hypertension, made by Pfizer, everyday for more than 10 yrs!

You would then say, John, you are Chinese American, but I cannot speak Chinese.

While you may have to bring an English-speaking Chinese friend with you for outpatient services, in case you have to be hospitalized, the above hospital has two entire floors serving foreigners only (Since they do not have that many foreign patients yet, they now also take Chinese patients.) The doctors and nurses there all speak English (Many had training from US, UK, Singapore, etc.)

Must be very expensive, then?

Not at all. This was why I stayed there for 700 days!

Except for the room charge, everything else is priced the same as elsewhere in the same hospital. Never any additional charge for foreigners!

The single room with air con, fully-equipped bathroom, 24-hour hot/cold tap water, etc. was for only RMB100/day (I paid RMB 75/day due to my extended stay.) Eight yrs later, the foreigner floors moved twice to new buildings and the price has gone up understandably: RMB 330/day, still much cheaper than the coastal cities of China, let alone the Western world!

There are two elevators going to the two floors (20F & 21F) directly non-stop.

If you still think the room charge is too high, you might want to share with another patient on 20F, then the price will get a free fall: RMB 60/day. (Note that you cannot pay RMB 120/day to occupy the entire room.)

Last question: John, how much you get paid by writing this article?

A: I called them to verify the room charge and they said they are extremely busy these days because ordinary Chinese become richer and richer. Therefore, you may want to call them to make sure they do have room for you!

John Peng