Pregnant Canadians heed this woman’s warning: Do not come to the United States if you could conceivably go to the hospital. Our broken system will bankrupt you.
There is perhaps nothing more telling about the difference in the way healthcare is handled in the United States and Canada than in the fact that just stepping over the imaginary line between the neighboring countries could mean the difference between no hospital bill and one for close to one million dollars. That’s the nightmare scenario one Canadian woman is facing after a dream vacation to Hawaii turned into a cautionary tale about America’s broken healthcare system.
To be clear, the reforms made by the passage of the Affordable Care Act have been productive (and in some cases, literally lifesaving), but the underlying problem — greed-fueled, privatized healthcare — is still largely intact. Hospitals still frequently charge astounding fees for routine procedures, oftentimes arbitrarily based on the particular hospital one has the (mis)fortune of going to.
In one not uncommon example, a Philadelphia woman was greeted with a $42,000 bill for an uneventful c-section birth at the local hospital including $144 just for “observation.”
In Canada, healthcare is largely government-run and subsidized. There is a drawback, of course; wait times are typically longer than in the United States, but the upside is that almost all healthcare is essentially free. A budgeting website called Save. Spend. Splurge. took a look at the typical cost of a five day hospital stay for a Toronto pregnant woman and found that her bill for a private room in the hospital ran to about $2,000. The site even suggests ways to get that price down — much to the anguish of us Americans who would kill to only spend two grand.
So when six-months-pregnant Jennifer Huculak decided to take a trip to Hawaii with her husband — probably for the last time without a child in tow — she couldn’t’ have known that it would be a slowly unfolding financial disaster. As Canada’s CTV News explains:
Huculak was six months pregnant when she flew to Hawaii for a holiday with her husband in October 2013. Before her trip, she bought Blue Cross insurance and received approval from her doctor.
But two days into her trip, Huculak’s water broke and she spent the next six weeks on bed rest in a Hawaiian hospital. Her daughter was born nine weeks early and spent two months in intensive care.
While she’s grateful that her 11-month-old daughter is now healthy, Huculak and her husband were left with a $950,000 medical bill.
The paper now darkly refers to the infant as a “million dollar baby” — and they aren’t far off.
On the face of it, Huculak did everything right. She bought extra insurance for the time she would be in America and even got clearance for her doctor. Her only flaw was assuming that her little one wouldn’t try to make a break for it the second they landed, and that even if that happened, the insurance she just paid for would cover it.
Blue Cross claims that Huculak had a pre-existing condition (officially, a “high-risk pregnancy”) because she had once had a bladder infection. Yes, just a bladder infection. Citing that medical “condition,” they denied covering any of her expenses for the birth. Unfortunately for Huculak, this pre-existing condition loophole was only months away from being plugged by Obamacare. It would have saved her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So despite having insurance, the Canadian woman was not covered by her insurance. Her bill was predictably massive. Before we go on, I have to admit that I have misled you a bit earlier. When I claimed that a birth in Toronto costs around $2,000 I didn’t mention that the bill is only that high if you don’t have insurance. If you get insurance through work or through a government program, it’s basically free. The author wrote that her total out-of-pocket costs were around $45 because she had to pay for parking.
Because of this mishap, Huculak is probably one of the only people in Canada who can without hesitation say that she has been bankrupted by healthcare costs. She didn’t do anything wrong other than “pick” the wrong country to require care in.
In heartbreaking fashion, the family now says they are deciding between several unenviable options: fight Blue Cross with an expensive lawsuit, declare bankruptcy and try to rebuild their lives, or just wait. Every option adds a lot more stress to a family who just had a child. America should be ashamed.