Babies couldn't wait, mom billed $22K

A newly arrived couple from India is billed $22,000 by OHIP — because their babies arrived prematurely.
The babies were released from hospital just last week. (CBC)

A newly arrived couple from India was billed $22,000 by OHIP — because their babies arrived prematurely.

Maki Ueyama and her husband, Arvind Chandrasekar, arrived in Toronto in September 2010. 

She had a job as a medical researcher and was three months pregnant with twins.

But in early December one of the babies' membranes ruptured.

Ueyama was hospitalized at Sunnybrook Hospital and gave birth to twin girls, nearly four months premature.

"The first one, Myna, she came naturally, and the second one, Arya, was an emergency C-section," Ueyama said.

The babies are Canadian, so their medical costs were immediately covered by OHIP, the Ontario health system. But their mother hadn't passed the three-month waiting period. 

One day after giving birth to her daughters Ueyama got a bill.

OHIP covered the hospital costs for the twins but not for for their mother. (CBC)

"I was stunned because it was a very huge amount," Chandrasekar said. The bill was for $22,000 for Ueyama's hospital care.

Six other provinces provide medical coverage to landed immigrants from the moment they arrive. 

Not Ontario. 

On Wednesday, Health Minister Deb Matthews said the rules are the rules — despite the special circumstances.

"We're not planning any changes on this three-month waiting period now, but I do think it's important that people know what the rules are before they get here," she said. 

The couple say they did know the rules — the babies didn't.

They're not angry. They're thankful for the medical care but still hope for a break.

"People here have welcomed us with open arms," said Chandrasekar. "Yes the system was in such a way that it couldn't help us, but I'm not going to blame anybody." 

The Ontario Medical Association agrees the rules should change. Landed immigrants should be covered immediately, the OMA says. Otherwise people just store up health problems.

"There is no health benefit to waiting to provide insurance until after three months are up," Dr. Mark MacLeod said in a statement. "Whether a person has an infectious disease, an urgent health event, an accident, or a chronic illness, the best possible outcomes will be achieved when the person seeks medical care as quickly as possible."

But the health minister says the waiting period is to prevent people from abusing the system, and she has no plans to change it. 

Ueyama and Chandrasekar say the province doesn't have to worry. Somehow they'll find a way to pay the bill.

Right now, their biggest concern is taking care of their babies. After spending four months in hospital, the twins were finally allowed to go home just last week.