Plight of Vietnamese baby brings attention to law limiting foreigners' rights to health insurance

The cries of little Do have won the hearts of children's ward staff at a hospital in the North Bohemian town of Most. Do was born prematurely and had to spend months in an incubator. He suffers from a high blood sugar level and has to undergo eye surgery. His parents are from Vietnam but have been living in the Czech Republic for several years now. When Do was born, his parents weren't Czech citizens and due to Czech law, their son had no health insurance.

In the Czech Republic, the children of foreigners can gain health insurance after they are born. But when Do's father applied for it at the state-owned VZP insurance company - the only company authorized to insure foreigners from non-EU countries - he was turned down.

"Any car insurance company would turn you down if your car had just been damaged in an accident, wouldn't it?" a health insurer who did not want to be named told Czech TV Nova. The VZP is bound by a law, which prohibits it to insure anyone who is sick - the hospital bills from the months little Do spent in the incubator had already reached close to 800,000 Czech crowns (over 32,000 US dollars).

Do's parents failed to win the support of numerous foundations and institutions that they approached for help although they were backed up by a social worker. It was not until a report was broadcast on the commercial television station Nova that Do's case was brought to the attention of the Nase Dite or Our Child foundation. It opened up a bank account and began collecting money. So far, there is 189,000 crowns in the account (a little over 7,500 US dollars). Our Child foundation director Zuzana Baudysova:

"To date we have collected 150 thousand from two insurance companies, the NGO Our Child contributed 15 thousand, we got another 15 thousand from the town of Varnsdorf and nine thousand from private donors. Overall we are very optimistic that we'll be able to raise the entire sum because bank transitions take a few days and there is likely to be more money in the pipeline. I firmly believe that by Christmas or just after Christmas we'll have good news for little Do's parents."

Today, Do is in care at a hospital in Prague. He now has health insurance - his father was granted Czech citizenship on December 12. Do's parents no longer have to worry about facing a similar problem if they have another child. But what about other non-EU citizens who have children in the Czech Republic?

Do's case brings to attention the fact that the current law violates the international convention on the rights of a child, which the Czech Republic is bound to. Among other things, it states that a child cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of its origin or state of health.

An amendment to the law is now to be discussed in Parliament and VZP says it intends to prevent similar problems in the future by increasing insurance rates for expecting mothers who are not EU citizens, in order to cover any potential complications that may arise at birth. The insurer, however, does not plan to allow children of foreigners living in the Czech Republic to automatically become VZP clients, fearing that such an offer would be abused.