Reece Huculak-Kimmel’s birth racked up a big bill after being born in a Hawaii hospital.

Million-dollar baby

Where do entitlement and common sense intersect?

Thankfully baby Reese is doing well. But she is completely oblivious to the swirl of controversy over who should pay the million-dollar cost of her Hawaiian delivery.

Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel was 24 weeks pregnant when she and her husband flew to Hawaii October 27, 2013. Her vacation took an unexpected twist when her water broke two days after landing. Six weeks of bed rest, followed by a Caesarean section delivery and a two-month hospital stay for Reese, quickly added up to a gargantuan medical bill.

The good news? Reese’s parents purchased travel health insurance before they left. The bigger bad news? The claim was denied because of multiple “pre-existing conditions.”

Recently Reese’s parents decided to go public with their million-dollar problem. What else could they do? Go bankrupt? Turn to crowd funding? Hire a lawyer? Or hope the problem would somehow magically disappear? There was no obvious answer.

So what went wrong? Could an ounce of prevention have removed the need for a cure? An industry source told me that claims involving infants in utero are invariably complex. Timely discussion of a doctor’s report with the health insurer during the application process, and if possible written confirmation to clarify the risk and eligibility issues governing coverage, would help travellers assess their risk tolerance.

But what did the Huculak-Kimmels actually do? According to news reports, they bought their travel insurance just one day before they left. That’s precious little time to study the fine print or to recall pre-existing medical conditions for that matter. It appears the trip was going to happen no matter what.

To test my “common sense” theory, I called my son-in-law, recently returned from a sunny Florida vacation with his pregnant wife. I asked about the fine print on their credit card-provided travel insurance. I quickly realized it’s not as simple as just counting the number of weeks.

Did travel insurance have a direct bearing on their plans? “Probably not,” he replied. “She was only 16 weeks along and the baby couldn’t have survived outside the womb.” I had a fleeting vision of my net worth at risk.

Most Canadians take a lot of things for granted, especially government paid medical care. And not surprisingly, it’s harder to remember pre-existing medical conditions if they didn’t cost us anything.

The “me first” attitude is deeply ingrained in our society. It pervades issues as diverse as our huge consumer debt, abortion and much more. Were Reese’s parents entitled to take that Hawaiian vacation? Perhaps. Was it wise? Certainly not in retrospect. But I doubt you could have convinced them of that the day they bought their travel insurance.

To balance our feeling of entitlement with common sense is both an art and a science. Omit either, and you could end up with a decision you will regret later.

 

Henry Friesen is a chartered accountant and reviews the fine-print of insurance policies near Winnipeg.

 

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About the author

Henry Friesen is a chartered accountant who lives in a small town near Winnipeg, Manitoba.