Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel wants changes to insurance claims

A Saskatchewan family facing a $950,000 medical bill wants to see changes to how insurance is sold in Canada.

Family wants more accountability for people who sell insurance

Reece Huculak-Kimmel's parents are facing a $950,000 US hospital bill after her birth in a Hawaii hospital last year. (Supplied photo)

A Saskatchewan family facing a $950,000 US medical bill wants to see changes to how insurance is sold in Canada.

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."

Kimmel would like to see more accountability in the system.

"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 was 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.

Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel (left) gave birth to her baby Reece (right) nine weeks early while in Hawaii. (David Shield/CBC)
"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."

Just don't pay the bill

A Vancouver-based lawyer says Huculak-Kimmel 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."

Stanley said the Canadian insurance industry needs to be reformed to better help customers needing coverage and care.


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

With files from CBC's David Shield


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?