Jennifer Huculak with her daughter Reece. Photo by the Toronto Sun
Childbirth is costly, but this is ridiculous: A mom from Saskatchewan, Canada, owes almost $1 million in hospital bills after she gave birth in the United States.
In October 2013, when Jennifer Huculak was almost six months pregnant and on vacation in Hawaii with husband Darren Kimmel, her water broke, according to a story published Tuesday in the Toronto Sun. After being airlifted from Maui to a nearby hospital in Honolulu, Huculak spent six weeks on hospital bed rest before giving birth to a premature baby girl, Reece, via an emergency C-section. Reece was kept in the neonatal intensive care unit for two months before the family was able return to their home in Canada in February.
After a week at the hospital, Huculak’s insurance company informed Huculak that her coverage had been denied. (The company is referred to as “Blue Cross” in Canadian media coverage, but is believed to be Saskatchewan Blue Cross, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield. The latter tells Yahoo Parenting that it’s not involved in this case.) The reason for the coverage denial: Huculak had a pre-existing condition that deemed her a high-risk pregnancy. However, according to the Sun, Huculak’s doctor wrote a letter to the insurance company stating that the pregnancy was healthy. The claim was still denied.
Yahoo Parenting could not reach Huculak for comment. However, on Wednesday, she said in an interview with CTC’s Canada AM, “I was never told by any doctor that I was a high-risk pregnancy. I had a bladder infection at four months that caused some hemorrhaging, but I was treated and everything was cleared up.” After learning that their bills would not be covered, the couple tried to return to Canada, but doctors informed them that it wasn’t safe, so they stayed put, shelling out about $30,000 on car and apartment rentals.
But the final medical bill for the birth? $950,000, all of which the family has been held responsible.
Yahoo Parenting could not reach a Blue Cross of Saskatchewan representative for comment, but the company sent the following statement to Canada AM: “We review each claim carefully and are confident that our decision to decline this claim was done in a considered manner based on the contract terms, the situation which resulted in this emergency medical claim, and a review of recent medical history.”
When the family initially purchased health insurance from Blue Cross of Saskatchewan, Kimmel said, a representative assured them the birth would be covered. “I think we did our due diligence. We answered the questions that we were asked when we purchased the policy; we answered them honestly,” he told Canada AM. “We purchase insurance for these reasons, for when accidents happen. And then when they get denied it causes quite a problem.”
Huculak said that if she hadn’t had travel insurance or if she had been a high-risk pregnancy, she never would have gone on vacation.
The province of Saskatchewan has covered $20,000 for the birth, and the family has received a large amount of donations, many of which have come from strangers. “At this point, we’re not really accepting anything from private people, that’s not what we’re looking for,” Huculak told news station CTV Saskatoon. The family is currently considering filing for bankruptcy.
But according to Denise Sikora, president of DL Health Claim Solutions, bankruptcy is not the answer. “Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to leave the country, have an emergency, and be hit with massive bills,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Understanding your insurance can seem confusing, but never let fancy language or terms intimidate you from understanding your policy.”
The family has a few options now, says Sikora. “They should write a letter of appeal to their insurance company and include all the woman’s medical records from before and during her pregnancy to prove that she didn’t have a preexisting condition.” A doctor’s note is often not as effective as actual records which contain blood work, sonogram reports, and more.
Also, if they booked their trip on their credit card, it’s likely that the credit card company offers medical coverage, which could offset some of the charges.“Many people don’t know that major credit cards offer medical insurance that cover things like lost luggage and even airlifting,” she says. And finally, they should know this: “Most hospitals are willing to negotiate bills,” says Sikora. “The doctors have a choice — they can lower the cost or they can get paid nothing.”