Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel and her husband Darren are a Canadian couple who wanted to have a Hawaii vacation before their baby was born. Huculak-Kimmel was almost six months pregnant with a low-risk pregnancy but at four months she had an episode of hemorrhaging from a bladder infection.
Her doctor cleared her for travel and did not consider her pregnancy high risk. She and her husband took out Canadian travel insurance thinking they had covered their bases in case there was a health issue while they were away.
Unfortunately, Huculak-Kimmel’s water broke and she went into preterm labor while still in Hawaii. She was medevaced from Maui to a larger hospital on the mainland and put on bed rest for the next six weeks.
The travel insurance medical coverage was through Saskatchewan Blue Cross. While in the hospital, Huculak-Kimmel received an email from Blue Cross stating that since her pregnancy had a pre-existing condition, it was considered a high-risk pregnancy and they would not pay for her hospitalization.
Concerned about the cost, they tried to arrange a flight home, but one company turned them down and another told her she would have to have an entire medical team fly with her in order to go and they still did not recommend her trying.
Reluctantly, she stayed in Hawaii. She delivered her baby, little Reece, who was two months premature and taken promptly to the NICU.
Now, here is where the bill gets really expensive.
The daily charge in the NICU was about $15,000/ day. Reece was there for two months. The total bill reached $950,000 and needless to say the couple does not have that kind of money.
There are a number of issues at play complicating who should be responsible for paying the bill.
First, the couple stated that when they took out the travel insurance, the agent told them that they should have adequate coverage for their trip even though Huculak-Kimmel was pregnant.
The only question about pregnancy she was asked was if she was under 32 weeks, nothing was asked about any other illnesses that occurred while pregnant.
A number of people have commented in the Comments sections of articles about the story that Canadian travel insurance is not well managed and should be overhauled. They fault that system for creating a false sense of coverage to buyers.
Second, Huculak-Kimmel’s doctor cleared her for travel despite the bleeding episode at four months.
Steven Lewis, a health policy analyst in Saskatoon told News Cafe, “Well, I don’t think we can be our own doctors. Either we do, or we don’t have a pre-existing condition. And we’re not likely to know about them unless we’ve been told by our doctors that we have them.”
Other commenters said that taking such a long trip at that stage of pregnancy was risky, especially being a Canadian and traveling to the United States where it is well known that medical costs are high.
Third, that is quite a bill! Many commenters argued that the bill is outrageously over-priced. Canadians are not used to U.S. health care prices so it seemed even more so.
However, it cost $40,000 for Huculak-Kimmel’s medical evacuation and $160,000 for her six weeks in the hospital. The total bill was for $950,000 but the bulk was from her daughter’s two months in the NICU, which cost $10,000 to $15,000 per day.
Parents in baby forums report that the NICU care of some of their preterm babies was a million dollars or more but they also reported having insurance coverage that paid the bill. In Hawaii everything is more expensive since it must be transported into the island so the cost may not be so out of line.
And last, in the defense of Blue Cross, it is not typical for pregnant women to hemorrhage because of a urinary tract infection.
It may really have just been a poor call on the part of Huculak-Kimmel’s doctor to let her go so far from home with her history.
The couple are not sure what they are going to do.
So far, Huculak-Kimmel said, Saskatchewan Health has paid for $20,000 of the bill and the United States picked up the cost of Reece’s delivery, at $12,000. That leaves $918,000, she said.
They are concerned that trying to fight the bill in court will just rack up more bills and they do not want to accept donations from strangers but they are considering it.
Their only other option is to declare bankruptcy.
Fortunately baby Reece is doing great and is healthy and happy.
“She’s our world. She’s a perfectly healthy little baby,” Huculak-Kimmel said.
1) Million-dollar baby: Hawaii vacation leaves Sask. parents with massive medical bill By Clare Clancy. The Canadian Press Global News. November 18, 2014. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2014.
2) Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel billed $950K US after giving birth in U.S. – Saskatoon. News Café. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2014.
3) How much does it cost to have a baby in the NICU? Babycenter Community. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
4) Saskatchewan family billed $1M for baby born in U.S. Toronto Sun. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/499625/michele_blacksberg.html
Edited by Jody Smith