Innisfail man facing hefty Mexican health-care bill

An Innisfail man is on the hook for almost $100,000 in health-care costs he incurred because of an emergency that happened in Mexico in 2009.

An Innisfail man is on the hook for almost $100,000 in health-care costs he incurred because of an emergency that happened in Mexico in 2009.

Hubert Jenkins was diagnosed with hepatitis C and in 2009, he shut down his business so he could seek the treatment that he was told was expensive and had a variety of side effects.

He was told he had to wait three months to see a specialist and he wanted to go to Mexico in the interim. He said medical professionals told him he was fit to travel and a few days later, he headed south.

“I tried to get health insurance, I phoned about it, because I had hepatitis they said no,” said Jenkins. “Now I could get insurance to go to Mexico, but not for the pre-existing condition.”

A week and a half into his Mexican vacation, he suddenly filled up with fluid, including in his lungs, and had to be taken to a local hospital for what Jenkins called an emergency. At the hospital, he had his spleen removed. He was released but had to return to the hospital in Mexico daily for blood tests and X-rays over the next three months.

Through all this treatment, he had racked up $105,000 in health-care costs.

He put a claim into Alberta Health when he came home and received $8,000.

Alberta Health spokesman John Muir would not comment directly on a specific claim, but said there is a formula for out-of-country claims.

“We do reimburse an amount for coverage of medical services outside of Canada,” said Muir. “Those are set amounts.”

He said the rate for in-patient hospital services is set at $100 per Canadian per day and the rate for an out-patient services is $50 per Canadian per day.

“In some other countries, those services may cost more, or a lot more, but we would not reimburse to the amount that it would cost for that actual service in that foreign country,” said Jenkins. “There is some reimbursement, but to ensure you’re not on the hook for things over and above the rates we pay reimbursement at, it’s always best to get that private insurance before you leave.”

After Jenkins returned home, he was put on a transplant list for a new liver. As well, he said a doctor at the University of Alberta Hospital told him his portal vein (going from the liver to his lungs) was blocked and would have to be replaced. During the transplant they would take a vein from his leg and replace the portal vein.

Later, he was taken off the list and told he had six months to a year to live.

“The reason for it was they didn’t feel they could do the operation for it and give me the results I’d be wanting,” said Jenkins. “I just sunk, you couldn’t sink any lower.”

He looked for alternatives and calls to hospitals in the U.S. yielded a spot on a transplant list, but would not take place until after he was projected to die.

He found success when he contacted University Hospital in London, Ont. They said they could do the transplant.

“They called me after a meeting and said ‘Yeah, the surgeon’s pretty sure he can do something for you,’ ” said Jenkins. “I flew down there, do an assessment and come back.”

At first they thought he would be there as early as Christmas 2011, but it wasn’t until July 16, 2012, that he flew to London and had the transplant surgery.

Alberta Health reimbursed him for the care he received in London.

Jenkins is frustrated by the experience, saying he received better care in Ontario and Mexico than he did in Alberta.

“Now I’m here, six months later and I feel good,” said Jenkins. His only issue is with the huge health-care bill.