My family moved to the US in the 1970s to flee the communist takeover of Hong Kong. Little did we know that we would face a more ominous opponent here: wealthy and powerful private companies.
Poor but resourceful, we relied on the generosity of relatives living in the US to support usinitially. All nine of us moved into my aunt's house, and it was not long before our Asian work ethic earned us a home of our own. It meant many years of scrimping and saving, but to us, struggle was not new.
Hong Kong's gleaming towers are a recent phenomenon. Today's tourists would not recognize the city 30 years ago.
After World War II, 500 million Asians were left starving by the retreating Japanese Imperial Army. The deprivation continued for decades, well into my childhood. In America, kids who would shortly be my new girlfriends were complaining about rain interrupting their play. In Hong Kong, we had no time to gripe. During torrential monsoon rains, we were happy to find an awning to keep us dry for the night.
My older brother Chi was my best friend in our struggles. Strong, determined and confident, his words of encouragement helped all of us get through the tough times.
All of us had warned him in recent months that he looked exhausted, yet he ignored us on his path upward on what we Chinese call the Golden Mountain.Headstrong and self-reliant, Chi had never taken the time to obtain health insurance.
When I received the call that he had been diagnosed with stage two colon cancer, I was filled with dread.Surgery was needed immediately to save his life, at a cost of nearly $100,000.
Those dark, rainy nights seemed upon us again.
Chinese Americans are often wealthy over-achievers with advanced degrees living in palatial homes. The reality is quite different for recent immigrants. Their success is built on hard work by all family members, often allowing only a thin margin of error.
Insurer after insurer turned down my brother for his "prior condition." Not a factor were his other prior conditions: dedication, long hours and thriftiness, all of which had helped his restaurant supply business finally turn a corner.
Helping him fill out form after form, then translating the ice-cold letters of denial, I reflected on the irony of his situation. America was more than happy to take him when he was young and healthy. Now that he needed assistance, the door had slammed shut. The sagging economy had all but drained our family's savings, and we were facing a six-figure expense.
Early one morning, poring over the details of the new health-care legislation, I discovered an obscure law that went into effect in 2010: Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). Buried by the insurance companies in the fine print, it requires that individuals who were denied coverage receive health-care insurance at a low premium.
I cried when I did the calculations: Chi would pay only $250 per month, plus a nominal deductible of $5000 dollars. The drama had come to a Hollywood ending.
So did the surgery. He was back on his feet in days, and, revitalized, he set about to rebuild his business.
I have no doubt that he will succeed, thanks to a new law that helps people, anyone, when they are down.