Young mother facing a worrying health scare undergoes ‘fast’ surgery.

Still haunted by thoughts of the suffering her sick father endured in faraway China, Jieer Chen's first concern when confronted with a health scare of her own here in New Zealand was for her two young sons.

Diagnosed late last year with thyroid swelling - one nodule in her neck had grown to an alarming 2cm - Chen worried what would become of her family should the worst happen and she was no longer around for them.

"Because my father passed away with stomach cancer, I was very worried about having these in my body and I decided to have surgery to remove them because no-one could guarantee it would have been safe for me to leave them in," she says.

Family is everything to Chen – she is a fulltime stay-at-home mum to her sons (aged seven and three) – and she remembers the angst she went through three years ago when her father lay dying back in her home city of Yuyao near Shanghai in China.


"At the time I was pregnant with my second son and although I got back to see my father, it was only in the last days," she says.

Ultimately Chen received good news: The growths were not malignant and within weeks were surgically removed in a $15,000 operation paid through private health insurance she had with nib.

"I wanted it (the surgery) fast because we never know what will happen in the future and I didn't like the thought of my husband and boys losing me," she says. "Of course I worried about that and without insurance I would probably have had to go a public hospital and may have had to wait a long time."

The surgery was the latest in a long list of challenges Chen has faced since arriving in New Zealand as a 15-year-old teenager more than 15 years ago.

Alone and living 9000km away from her home, Chen came to New Zealand to attend ACG International College in Auckland. She later went to Massey University in Albany where she studied for a degree in finance.

But being on her own was not easy: "Although I had a cousin who had come here three years before me and my homestay family looked after me well, I had to learn everything by myself including English which is a hard language to learn.

"I had to be shown how to catch a bus and how to clean my room because back in China I never had to do the cleaning," she says. "I was by myself, it was very hard."

She met her future husband while at university - he too had come to New Zealand from China to go to school at Mt Albert Grammar - and later spent three years helping to manage a café.


But when she fell pregnant with her first son, Chen and her husband (who now works as a site manager for a construction company) decided she would stay home to look after the baby rather than go out to work.

Chen is pleased she did. But she is also grateful she had health insurance to fall back on during her recent health scare (she signed up with nib in October last year) - and that she hadn't had to face a situation like it when she first came to New Zealand while struggling to find her feet in a new country.

"Because nib helped me a lot I realise how important health insurance can be and I would definitely recommend it to anyone, but particularly Chinese people like myself whose English may not be so good."

Chen's story comes as nib has introduced private insurance cover for treatments like Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture and at a time when research shows access to medical care for migrants is at levels below that enjoyed by most Kiwis.

The range of new products is aimed at migrant groups - particularly Chinese and Indians - in an effort to "meet the changing face of New Zealand".

nib had more than 205,000 customers in New Zealand to the end of December last year.

In the six months to December 2017 nib paid out almost $65m in benefits including cover for cancer treatments, GP consultations and preventative health measures like visits to dentists and the purchase of new glasses.

Overall the number of Kiwis with health insurance has increased by 20,100 or 1.5 per cent according to the latest statistics from the Health Funds Association of New Zealand. The figures show that to the end of March 2018 the total number of lives covered stood at 1.3 million.

Total claims paid over the last 12 months were up 5.4 per cent - or $62 million - compared to March 2017.