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article imageCanadian woman gets $950,000 medical bill after Hawaiian vacation

By Ken Hanly     Nov 18, 2014 in Travel
Regina - A Saskatchewan woman, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel, went on a holiday to Hawaii in October 2013 while she was pregnant. She ended up giving birth nine weeks prematurely in Hawaii.
She gave birth on December 10th by emergency C-section. She and her baby daughter remained in hospital for two whole months. Huculak-Kimmel thought that her Blue Cross travel insurance would pay her bill but Blue Cross refused to provide any payments on the grounds that she had a pre-existing condition — a high risk pregnancy — and also her insurance ran out during the period when she was in the hospital.
A Blue Cross worker wrote to the family: "We are unable to provide coverage for any medical expenses incurred for Ms. Huculak's baby" and "please note that Ms. Huculak's travel policy expired on Nov. 9, 2013." Huculak-Kummel had met with her own doctor who approved the trip, and also Blue Cross before she went on the trip. She said: "Blue Cross said that because I had a bladder infection at four months and hemorrhaged because of that, that they would not cover the pregnancy. We thought we had done everything right. We thought we had covered all avenues and we thought we were covered. We thought we were safe to go." She is quite grateful that her daughter ,now almost a year old, is quite healthy, but she and her husband have no idea how they can pay the $950,000 bill.
Blue Cross explained their rejection of the claim as follows: "Ms. Huculak was diagnosed and treated for a high-risk pregnancy in the six months prior to departure. As Ms. Huculak is currently hospitalized and being treated for this high-risk pregnancy, any expenses incurred are not eligible under the terms of your policy." Huculak claims that she did not have a high-risk pregnancy but had a bladder infection that led to bleeding. She said: "The specialist in Hawaii said that these things just happen. There's nothing that causes them." Her specialist in Saskatchewan wrote to Blue Cross telling them that it was not the bladder infection that led to the early labor but still her coverage was denied. Huculak was angry because the Blue Cross pamphlet she had said nothing about rules for pre-existing conditions.
A CBC article gives tips about buying travel insurance. Bill Walker, director of individual products for Ontario Blue Cross warns: "Probably the biggest thing for a person to do is to give as much medical or background history as they have when they're purchasing [insurance],"
Medical expenses are much higher in the U.S. than in Canada and so it is important to have travel insurance even for short trips to the US. Walker mentions a case in which a Canadian had a brain aneurysm in Buffalo right on the border but had to be treated there at a cost of $90,000. Alex Bittner, vice-president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada notes that on a $100,000 bill from the US, the Ontario Health Insurance plan would pay just $9,000, and so extra insurance is quite important.
Huculak is not alone in having problems with insurance claims. Two snowbirds from Alberta were denied a $105,000 dollar claim because they had not counted properly all the prescriptions they had in a period before the travel. None of the extra prescriptions involved had anything to do with the health problems that racked up the expenses. Not just Canadians face these problems.
A Sydney couple John Kan and Rachel Evans were also stuck with a million-dollar hospital bill after their daughter was born in a Vancouver hospital. They had taken out extra travel insurance and extra coverage for the pregnancy but did not realize that the birth was not covered. Just as they were about to return to Australia Evans went into premature labor right at the airport. The baby, Piper Kan, ended up in the neo-natal ward in a Vancouver hospital for three whole months with a bill of about $1 million. The couple actually does not begrudge the bill since they have a healthy daughter. They arranged with the hospital to pay it off at $300 per month. It will take 278 years to pay it off. The Australian foreign ministry is investigating whether it can pay the bill. Australia has reciprocal arrangements with 11 countries that allows Australians to get treatments deemed medically necessary but unfortunately Canada is not one of them.
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