New babies are always expensive, but a Saskatchewan couple has been hit with a $1 million bill after delivering their daughter prematurely in Hawaii.
Their travel insurance provider, Saskatchewan Blue Cross, is refusing to pay for any of it, citing a pre-existing condition clause.
Jennifer Huculak, 30, and her husband Darren Kimmel booked a two-week Maui vacation for last October, when Huculak was six months pregnant. Before leaving their home in Humboldt, Huculak, who experienced a bladder infection that led to bleeding a couple months prior, checked in with her doctor.
“There was nothing on the ultrasound that indicated there was any reason to worry. He said ‘Go relax and have a good time,’” she said.
The couple purchased insurance in person through Blue Cross the day before they left. The broker “assured me we were covered,” Huculak told the Toronto Star.
Two days into the trip, on Oct. 28, Huculak awoke from a nap to discover her water had broken. She was flown to Kapi’olani Medical Center in Honolulu, where she stayed for six weeks, trying not to go into labour. Coming home was not an option because she couldn’t fly.
The couple’s daughter Reece was born Dec. 10, nine weeks early, via an emergency C-section. She weighed 4 lbs 7 oz.
“She was losing so much oxygen,” said Huculak. The baby, who is healthy today, was incubated for an additional two months. The family checked out of hospital Feb. 13.
Letters from Blue Cross rejected Huculak’s insurance claim, stating “her emergency is excluded from coverage under the terms of her pre-existing condition provision.” They also said the baby was not eligible for coverage and that the policy expired Nov. 9.
Saskatchewan Blue Cross declined to comment, citing privacy reasons, when contacted by the Star.
Huculak said she was never asked about pre-existing conditions.
“The sales rep for Blue Cross that sold us the insurance never warned us, never explained anything. We never had a questionnaire for existing conditions,” she said.
Her doctors in Saskatoon and Hawaii agreed the bladder infection was not related to her premature labour, and told the broker as much, she added.
In March, the couple received a staggering bill for $947,000. Stunned, they wondered, “How could all of this have gone so wrong?” said Huculak.
The Saskatchewan government has picked up $20,000 and Huculak said she is receiving $12,000 in aid to cover the delivery. But the couple will still likely file for bankruptcy, she said. Her husband, a farmer, plans on working the oil rigs in northern Alberta to make some extra cash.
“We cannot afford to pay this bill,” said Huculak.
Will McAleer, vice-president of Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, said Huculak and her broker should have had a more thorough conversation about how her policy would apply to different situations, including a premature birth.
“In a typical travel insurance sale, there would be a lot of different kinds of questions asked,” he said. “It’s so critical to the policy to know how it’s going to handle any conditions you’ve got before you go away.”
Pre-existing condition provisions vary from broker to broker, he said, but generally there is a “stability period” dating backwards 30 days to six months from the first day of the trip. If an emergency arises, insurers will assess medical situations that occurred within that period to determine whether or not to disqualify a claim.
Though Hucalak’s policy expired by the time she left hospital, McAleer said normally, a policy would extend in that situation.
“Generally that’s not an issue … Policies will extend while you’re hospitalized, because you’re still in that emergent situation.”
Hucalak said she went public to warn others to read the fine print.