As It Happens

Saskatchewan mom stuck with $1 million hospital bill after she gives birth in Hawaii (update)

It was supposed to be a fun family holiday in Hawaii. Instead, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel ended up on an extended trip to the hospital, where she gave birth prematurely to her daughter, Reese. Now she and her husband are facing a nearly one million dollar bill -- even though they bought insurance before they left on the trip....
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It was supposed to be a fun family holiday in Hawaii. Instead, Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel ended up on an extended trip to the hospital, where she gave birth prematurely to her daughter, Reese. Now she and her husband are facing a nearly one million dollar bill -- even though they bought insurance before they left on the trip.
"We flew down there. I was 24-and-a-half weeks pregnant. And two days into our holiday, my water broke," Huculak-Kimmel explains to Carol.

She spent six weeks on bed rest in the hospital, then gave birth to her daughter by emergency Cesarean section. Reese was nine weeks premature and spent two months in the neo-natal intensive care unit.

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Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel and her daughter, Reese.

Only a week after Huculak-Kimmel checked into the hospital, she learned that Blue Cross was not willing to pay the medical bill. It eventually totalled $950,000.

She says the insurance company denied her coverage because it said she had a pre-existing medical condition. She had had a bladder infection four months into her pregnancy, and long before her trip, that caused bleeding. Blue Cross argued that made her pregnancy high-risk. But, she says, four days before her trip, her specialist gave her an ultrasound and cleared her to fly.

"He saw no reason for me not to go," she says. "He felt that my pregnancy was stable."

Huculak-Kimmel adds that when she bought the Blue Cross insurance, the salesperson told her she was OK to travel because she was less than 36 weeks pregnant.

"I guess we thought we had done everything right," she says.

The specialists in Hawaii told Huculak-Kimmel that there is no cause for a ruptured membrane, she says, although they speculated that the long flight could have been a factor.

Why isn't that explanation good enough for Blue Cross?

"They have doctors on their payroll and they decide," says Huculak-Kimmel. "If you were Blue Cross, would you try to get out of a million-dollar bill?"

She says her doctor has written to the insurance company saying he felt her pregnancy was not risky and Blue Cross should cover her costs.

"We don't know what to do," she says. "We can't afford to pay a million-dollar medical bill. We can go deeper in debt and try to fight Blue Cross. We can wait and declare bankruptcy on the bill, which is no good for anybody. But we don't have very many options."

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Her daughter, Reese, is ten-months-old now and healthy.

"She's our world," says Huculak-Kimmel. "We count our blessings and are grateful every day for the tremendous hospital care that the baby and I both received. But we still have this huge bill hanging over our heads."

She hopes others will hear her story and take caution.

"People should be warned," she says. "This could happen to anybody."

UPDATE TO NOV. 18/14 POST: Blue Cross has re-iterated its position that it would not honour Huculak-Kimmel's claim. Toronto insurance lawyer Sivan Tumarkinhas has offered to take on their case -- pro bono. We spoke to him on Tuesday, Nov. 25:


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