A Saskatchewan mother should not pay the nearly $1-million US hospital bill she received after giving birth in Hawaii, says a lawyer experienced in such cases.

Last year, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel gave birth nine weeks early while on holiday in Hawaii. Her premature daughter spent two months in intensive care.

The family had purchased travel insurance, but were turned down by Blue Cross, which cited a "pre-existing condition." 

The insurer said a bladder infection two months before the pregnancy meant Huculak-Kimmel was ineligible to receive coverage.


Darren Kimmel says he's not happy with how his insurance claim was handled. (Supplied photo)

However, when they bought the insurance, the family says they were never asked about any pre-existing conditions by the insurance agent.

"We disclosed everything that was asked of us there on that form," husband Darren Kimmel said. "The lady asked the questions, we answered them, and that's the best we could do. We answered them honestly. The main question we were asked was, 'Are you 32 weeks pregnant?' And of course, at the time, she was only 24 weeks pregnant."

Scott Stanley, a Vancouver-based lawyer who works on similar cases said the family should not pay the bill. 

"What I typically counsel people to do is to not pay the bills, depending on their circumstances, because I have yet to see a big health authority come into Canada to try and enforce and collect," said Scott Stanley, a Vancouver-based lawyer who works on similar cases. "And of course, they'd have to do that."

He said the tragedy is that there's probably nothing she could have done differently to avoid the situation. 

"I see cases like this all the time — not necessarily involving pregnancies — where people have gone to the United States ... and they've had a minor medical condition, but that's enough to disqualify them."

Changes needed

Stanley said the Canadian insurance industry needs to be reformed to better help customers needing coverage and care. Kimmel wants to see the same thing. 

Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel

Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel, left, of Humboldt, Sask., gave birth to Reece nine weeks early while in Hawaii, and was later slapped with a $1-million US hospital bill. (David Shield/CBC)

"Maybe there should be a better way to purchase travel insurance," he said. "Maybe Blue Cross should change their policies on how they sell them and make their salesmen more accountable for what they do."

During the couple's hospital stay, Blue Cross had contacted them, saying their insurance had run out after their baby was born. Kimmel said it didn't make much sense to extend the insurance when they had already been refused by the company.

The family tried to be medevaced back to Saskatchewan as soon as they heard that their claim had been denied, but were not successful. One company wouldn't take the family, the other company said it required a full surgical team to travel with the mother on the plane.

Next steps 

The family says it still isn't sure what it's going to do next. Collection agencies started contacting the family in July, but the family has so far rebuffed their calls.

"We made no bones about it. We weren't paying them a dime," he said. "Those calls kind of quit, but I'm assuming they're going to start again. We weren't in any position to make any deals with them."

The family has also considered declaring bankruptcy, although says they aren't at that stage yet.

People on social media have already started talking about online fundraising, but the family says it doesn't want to go down that road.

"We don't want to take other people's money," he said. "People work hard for their money, and I don't feel they should be giving us money.

"Social media has told us to find a lawyer and fight them," he said. "I suppose we will. I'm hoping that some of this bad publicity will make Blue Cross come forward and say, maybe one of their salesmen made a mistake, and we'll pay the bill."


Here's a brief timeline of events in this case:

Oct. 26, 2013: Family buys travel insurance from Blue Cross
Oct. 27: Family flies to Hawaii
Oct. 29: Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel's water breaks, medevaced to Kapi'olani Medical Centre for Women and Children
Nov. 8: Blue Cross contacts family, telling them their claim has been denied
Dec. 10: After weeks of bed rest, baby Reece is born by caesarean section