Canadian Child’s Emergency Appendectomy Starts Travel Insurance Twitter Debate

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Canadian Child’s Emergency Appendectomy Starts Travel Insurance Twitter Debate

A family, dealing with a medical crisis on vacation, purchased insurance before the trip and now can seek at least partial reimbursement. Photo: Shutterstock.com.


An Ontario, Canada, pediatrician lit up a Twitter debate last week advocating for travel insurance, when he posted about the CAD $46,000 emergency appendectomy an eight-year-old patient of his needed while on a recent family vacation in Mexico.

The child’s and family’s names were withheld, but according to the doctor and news reports, the family had purchased insurance before the trip, so they can seek at least partial reimbursement.

“Never too late to post this. If you are traveling outside of ???? 2 things you must have; 1/ Flight cancellation insurance 2/Medical insurance for duration of trip. Just saw a child who had emergency appendectomy in Puerto Vallarta 4 days ago. Total cost =$35,000 (US),” wrote Dr. Rick MacDonald, a pediatrician in Oakville, Ontario, on Mar. 19, under the Twitter handle @Kidsdoc1Rick.

A series of tweets and retweets ensued, with Canadians discussing the merits and cost of travel medical insurance.

Michele Sparling, a parent and HR consultant, tweeted: “Went through this last summer with youngest. Still going through paperwork with insurance. Thankfully had coverage. Even then learned more about what questions to ask next time. And get coverage even if traveling in Canada but outside Ontario as not all things are covered.”

She tweeted that her recently adjudicated insurance claim took “nearly 6 months of back and forth paperwork with the insurance provider, travel co. airline, healthcare provider in Europe (who was great), etc. All good in the end. Glad we had the insurance. #IllnessNotAnAccident.”

Alex MacDonald, who claimed to once having been a travel agent, tweeted about how travel insurance “can be [broke] down into several components ... you can purchase sole ‘medical insurance’. It doesn’t cover all the other things but will cover your emergency medical needs abroad” for about CAD $25.

“I work at sea and have seen people heli lifted from the ship to a hospital for $70,000. Never holiday without the $25 insurance package that we are so lucky to have access to in Canada,” he wrote.

According to the news reports, the eight-year-old girl began complaining about stomach pain while vacationing with her family at a Puerto Vallarta resort. The resort referred the family to a local hospital, where they were asked for their credit card and charged approximately $4,000 for a CT scan.

The doctors diagnosed the girl with appendicitis, and immediately rushed her in for surgery –which was successful and the child returned home safely. Her mother told a local news station that the recent event “absolutely” changed how she’ll travel going forward. “I don’t think I will ever travel for pleasure again without having travel medical insurance — especially with kids,” she said.

‏“I am a very firm believer in *good* travel insurance that includes medical insurance,” tweeted E Wickersham, MD, MS, under the Twitter handle @Wickersham_Eliz. “The Med insurance needs to include air transportation back to my home country to the hospital of my choice and return flight for my spouse. Right hospital for specific problem.”

Doctor recommends private travel insurance over provincial plans
One Twitter follower suggested Canadians consider purchasing short-term health insurance from Ontario’s government insurance plan, OHIP. OHIP’s “Out-of-Country Travellers Program” covers a limited amount of the emergency health service costs for Canadians traveling abroad, including doctor services (e.g. medical assessments, emergency surgery), emergency outpatient services (e.g. MRIs, CT scans) and emergency inpatient services (e.g. hospital stays, nursing services).

@Alain24601 thought that was a bad idea. “When I moved to Ontario in ‘97, I briefly worked for the MOH and the standard line was ALWAYS to get private insurance,” he tweeted. “Guy brushed against fire corals, $100k US to be air lifted to Miami for treatment. Ohip didn’t cover much = bankruptcy! Get insurance!”

Dr. MacDonald responded similarly in a tweet that simply stated: “I’d rather take my chances w/private insurance, just sayin.”

Others tweeted about the utility of flight cancellation insurance, but Dr. MacDonald recommended it for parents traveling with children, stating: “If you fly w/ kids it is a must. Have yet to have airlines refuse reimbursement for a sick child who was held back for illness.”

Anson Lee, a medical student, tweeted a reminder that because of the differences in health insurance coverage between Canadian provinces, “Even travelling within Canada can become a financial nightmare as certain emergency services are not covered by home province when you encounter a medical emergency in another. I would suggest checking with your provincial coverage when you travel within Canada as well,” he tweeted from @AnsonHWLee.

“Yeah and pre-existing conditions aren't covered. So, unless you have travel insurance through a private health insurance plan, you could be out-of-pocket $1000s when traveling within Canada, but outside province of residence,” tweeted Julie Panneton‏ @JulieMDPanneton.

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