Hawaii hospital charges Canadian family $1m for baby’s birth

A Canadian family is refusing to pay a Hawaii hospital million-dollar-bill for their baby’s premature birth while visiting on vacation.

The family, from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, had the forethought to buy traveler’s insurance from Blue Cross — the woman wasn’t due for over two months.

Nonetheless, Blue Cross is refusing to cover the birth because the woman had a “pre-existing condition.”

What was the deadly condition that this Canadian vixen failed to disclose to all-caring innocent-victim Blue Cross (even though the woman says Blue Cross never asked)?

A bladder infection.

Welcome to health care costs in America, and oddly, health care cruelty in Canada.

You see, the insurance company that turned the family down was “Saskatchewan Blue Cross” — a Canadian company.

When will it all be too much?

I spent the afternoon calling back and forth from my insurance company to Costco to my local pharmacy to find out how much prescription drug coverage I have left for this year. You see, I still have a pre-Obamacare health insurance plan, and I only get $1,500 in prescription drug coverage every year.

For those of you under the age of 50, or living outside of the US, prescription drug prices are obscene in the US. Take the Asmanex I’m now on for my asthma. It’s much cheaper than the Advair I was on before. Asmanex is “only” $193 per month.

And guess how much I bought the same Asmanex, made by the same pharmaceutical company (Merck), for this past summer in Paris?

$25.

Comparative drug prices, US vs. Europe.

Comparative drug prices, US vs. Europe. Note that several pharmaceutical companies have been cutting already-low drug prices in Europe, while raising them drastically in America.

Yes, Merck charges American citizens nearly 8x what it charges Europeans. Why? Because they can. Americans are quite literally subsidizing “socialized medicine” (as the Republicans love to call it) in Europe. And our politicians are doing nothing to stop it. In fact, they’re doing everything to protect it. You see, US law forbids the US government from negotiating with drug companies to get better prices in the Medicare program, for example. So, seniors get socked with higher bills.

Also, US laws bars Americans traveling abroad from bringing more than 3 months’ worth of prescription drugs home with them. Why? Because the FDA claims they’re afraid you’ll buy bad knock-off drugs, and kill yourself. What horrible sewer-like countries is the FDA concerned you might buy drugs from? Canada.

From the FDA Web site:

Is it legal for me to personally import drugs?

In most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use. This is because drugs from other countries that are available for purchase by individuals often have not been approved by FDA for use and sale in the United States. For example, if a drug is approved by Health Canada (FDA’s counterpart in Canada) but has not been approved by FDA, it is an unapproved drug in the United States and, therefore, illegal to import. FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs that it has not approved.

Seriously — Canada?

But let’s look at this a bit more closely. I’ve been buying my asthma drugs in France. They’re the same drugs, made and sold by the same companies that sell them to me in America, but at a 3 to 8 times mark-up. Does the FDA seriously expect us to believe that it’s protecting us from Merck’s, GlaxoSmithKline’s and AstraZeneca’s “unsafe” drugs they sell to Europeans? Seriously?

If Advair, Symbicort and Asmanex are so unsafe, then why are they sold in America at all? We’re to believe that unsafe drugs suddenly become safe simply because the drug companies charge American several hundred dollars more than they charge Europeans for a one-month supply? 

And adding to the fun, countries like France have a national health care system similar to Medicare — there’s a national plan, and then a supplemental private plan that you can pay extra for if you want additional coverage. Because the French government negotiates with drug companies, and gets the price down by a factor of anyone from 3 to 8, the drug companies simply make up the difference by charing Americans more.

A lot more.

So is anyone really surprised that having a baby, even a premature birth, cost a million bucks? My dad got sick last year, and his bill came in at a whopping $1.4 million. Fortunately, all but $400 was paid for by Medicare. But seriously, $1.4 million? How many million-dollar cotton-swabs were included in that bill?

Obamacare was only the beginning of the kind of reform our country needs. And a big part of the reform is the insane prices that we get charged for all kinds of medical services. It’s basically one big pyramid scheme, where hospitals and doctors fleece each other, when they’re not fleecing you and me.

When will enough be enough?


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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34 Responses to “Hawaii hospital charges Canadian family $1m for baby’s birth”

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  2. cambridgemac says:

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  4. Thom Allen says:

    Any good Canadian baby is worth at least $1,000,000.

  5. Mike F says:

    Lower levels of stress do tend to lead to better health, and thus longer lifespans. Oh, and ours is a pathologically sick society, full of a people who have been MarketingPRopaganda’ed (ie, brainwashed, ergo, tortured) to within an inch of their sanity, so that doesn’t help.

  6. Denver Catboy says:

    You don’t believe it is possible until it happens to you.

    2 units of blood ended up being 2 months of my salary.

    ‘Eff it. I should have just let my body replace that naturally….

  7. Denver Catboy says:

    Nope. What we’re saying is that there are opportunistic jerks who see the US as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Like the real thing, you see prices skyrocket when there’s nothing that can stop them.

    Open the borders to drugs from Canada, and watch the prices for domestic drugs plummet as now people will just put in an order from a Canadian pharmacy. But Big Pharma won’t let that happen. There’s money to be had out there, and we Americans, especially the right-wingers and their agitators online, are sheep ready to be fleeced…

  8. timncguy says:

    I do agree with John that the US is subsidizing the French and others. I don’t believe that the drug companies could make enough profit at the French prices to survive unless, as you may be suggesting, the French government is also kicking in some money to the pharma companies. I’ve never been able to get a definitive answer to that question. Are the drug companies getting their only compensation from the French consumer directly? Or, does their system work similarly to the way medicaid works here and they also get a payment from the government along with what the consumer is paying?

  9. Naja pallida says:

    I helped a friend through a nasty kidney stone a couple months ago. An hour in the ER, a single CT scan, pain meds, and an outpatient procedure a day later to surgically remove it came to just under $70,000 before insurance.

    It’s not hard to see how it adds up fast, and the second it is an emergency situation they basically triple their fees for everything.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    I run into the same thing all the time when I go to see relatives in Canada and Europe. They just don’t get it. They can’t understand how a modern country could care so little about its people.

  11. Naja pallida says:

    Other countries are smart enough to regulate health costs. We’re not, so health insurance companies, health care providers, and pharmaceutical companies laugh all the way to the bank. Not necessarily subsidizing Europe, as they’d still be a hugely profitable industry if we also got a clue and regulated costs. It’s more that we let them charge whatever they want, so they do. Wouldn’t you? If your boss said you could set your own salary, wouldn’t you pick the highest number you thought you could get away with?

  12. Strepsi says:

    It’s not a zero sum game, where that’s the total profit the companies deserve, and the U.S. is paying the bulk of it. I don;t agree with John’s implication that the U.S. is subsidizing France, the U.S. is simply paying more… which goes straight to corporate profits. They’re simply gouging Americans because they can.

    With socialized medicine — real socialized medicine, not the Frankenthingie you guys have — the system is subsidized by taxes, so the costs are spread, and the system because it is government run, is also highly regulated with fee caps.

    COMMUNIZMS!

    But even so (and even taking into account our Canadian famous long wait-times) our government pays LESS PER CAPITA on health care than the U.S…. and we live almost 3 years longer than Americans (78 to 81 years).

  13. Naja pallida says:

    Sure, rich Canadians who can afford to use the US system as a way of jumping ahead in line for treatment. There’s no one in Canada you can buy off to get care faster.

  14. BillFromDover says:

    A piece of Obamacare:

    The maximum out-of-pocket cost limit for any individual Marketplace plan for 2015 can be no more than $6,600.

    Too bad they weren’t covered by it… yes?

    How many people do ya think are even aware of this provision?

    Damn, perhaps (now) America’s health care system can rival Canada’s?

  15. BillFromDover says:

    But… but… but… but ain’t this why Canadians flock to America in droves… for superior health care?

    At least, that’s what Sean tells me.

  16. just_AC says:

    so what are we saying?

  17. Houndentenor says:

    They also don’t work 60-80 hours a week and have several times more vacation time than we do. Many US executives don’t take all their vacation time as it is. They don’t dare. And many Americans have no benefits whatsoever. It’s one of my greatest frustrations the last few years explaining to people that we don’t all get our insurance through our job.

  18. guestferd says:

    “It’s basically one big pyramid scheme, where hospitals and doctors fleece each other, when they’re not fleecing you and me …”

    (adding) But regardless, it winds up being everyday American families who pay the outrageously inflated bills for all things medical inside the USA.

    Americans are going to wake up about this horribly ruinous drain on their family finances. How can we rouse them faster?

  19. nicho says:

    Here’s a fantastic look at healthcare around the world from Frontline. It’s an hour long, but worth watching.

    http://video.pbs.org/video/1050712790/

    It’s a few years old. So it predates the ACA. Still, even with the ACA we have the most disgraceful healthcare system out there.

    There is one scene where the reporter asks a Swiss official whether anyone there goes bankrupt because of healthcare costs. The guy looks shocked and says “Nobody. It doesn’t happen. It would be a huge scandal.” He asks the same question in other countries and the answer is always the same — doesn’t happen.

    The bottom line is that no system is perfect, but even the worst system is head and shoulders above ours.

  20. therling says:

    A friend of mine was visiting relatives in Sweden as the foreclosure crisis was breaking, and her folks there just could not fathom that in the US people were losing their homes like that.

    Makes me wonder if one of the reasons Europeans live longer is that they don’t have to dread such catastrophes as we do.

  21. Hue-Man says:

    CBC TV interviewed a travel insurance broker who suggested that some companies wouldn’t insure the costs of the newborn, e.g. NICU for preemies. Either it’s a “pre-existing condition” or how do you write a policy for someone who’s -2 months of age!

    I’ve heard many airlines won’t allow pregnant women to fly past 7-8 months. This seems like good advice more generally if you’re traveling out of state/country. http://www.babycenter.com/0_airline-policies-for-pregnant-travelers_6976.bc

  22. Hue-Man says:

    March 26, 2012: “An Australian couple whose daughter was born prematurely in Vancouver say they hope the Australian government will prevent B.C. taxpayers from having to pay the million-dollar bill.

    Piper Kan was born last Aug. 6, when mother Rachel Evans went into labour in her 26th week at Vancouver International Airport, shortly before the couple were scheduled to fly back to Sydney.

    The baby girl weighed less than a kilogram when she was born by emergency C-section at BC Children’s and Women’s Hospital and spent 90 days in neonatal intensive care with breathing and lung problems, at a cost of $8,120 per day.

    Piper’s care also incurred the costs of numerous specialists and consultants. The couple also had to pay $550 for the ambulance from the airport to the hospital and another $3,000 for the birth.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/b-c-baby-costs-aussie-couple-1m-1.1197529

  23. BlueIdaho says:

    I was injured in a biking accident this summer on Maui. (broken collar bone). The ambulance trip was $1,200. The hour in the ER was $2,500.00. The doctor wouldn’t release me to travel back to the states, so my three days in the hospital was $27,000.00 No procedures, just an x-ray every day and some pain meds. Blue Cross paid for everything less my deductible. The problem is that all hospitals in Hawaii are operated by the state. Due to the large population of indigent Hawaiians most of the care is paid for by tax dollars. Therefore when they have a patient with insurance they charge the hell of of them.

  24. perljammer says:

    Not really hard to figure out. Airlift from Maui to Honolulu; six weeks in the hospital prior to the delivery; C-section surgery; two months in neo-natal intensive care for the baby.

    As a reference, ten years ago my wife spent a week in UCLA Medical Center, including a couple of days in intensive care and a tricky “interventional radiological” procedure to treat an aneurism. The bill was over $100K.

  25. timncguy says:

    Are we saying here that the prices in Europe are artificially low and are kept that way by outrageously HIGH prices in the US? And, that the actual prices should be somewhere between the two extremes?

  26. tamarz says:

    We forced our daughter to pay for the highest cost health insurance her organization offers because none of the other companies covered her when she’s out of state. I’m going to send her this so she sees why she’s paying $200/month more for coverage (that is otherwise not all that great). We told her that we were making her do this for us, not for her, because if she traveled here to visit us, then got sick, we’d be the ones paying and there would go our retirement. (does she think we’d let her go without care?).

  27. 2karmanot says:

    During my husband’s last ER visit (average wait time –12 hrs in a freezing cold florescent lighted room) he was visited by two ER doctor’s because of the shift change. One, who had seen him maybe 10 minutes, sent a bill for $2700.00. Seriously, even though it is a risk, I’m considering sending for some serious Mexican pharmaceutical to end it before falling into the snare of the American ‘health’ system.

  28. nicho says:

    Ten years ago, I had to have a growth removed from my vocal cords. I went to the outpatient surgery at the local hospital. I got there are 2 p.m.They had me strip down to my undies, put a gown on me, started an IV and wheeled me into the treatment room. The gave me the happy drug that makes you forget things, did their procedure, and wheeled me back to the holding area. A nurse took my BP and gave me a cup of ice. I then got dressed and was on my way home at 5 p.m. That little three-hour escapade was billed at $24,000.

  29. nicho says:

    I was in Spain a year or so ago and was trying to explain our health care system to some friends there. All they kept saying was “but that doesn’t make any sense.” I’m pretty fluent in Spanish, but they thought it was a language problem. Our system is so insane that they couldn’t believe I was saying it right.

    Then, we moved on to gun worship, and things got even worse. The gun situation in the US is just incomprehensible to them. They can’t believe any civilized country has a healthcare system and a gun fetish like ours.

  30. heimaey says:

    They make fun of us for it but they don’t realize how severe it is. They’re like hahaha you pay a lot….wait…what how much? And then they feel sorry for us.

  31. My European friends’ mouths drop when I tell them how much health care costs here. (And that it’s not safe to walk home through a public park at 3am ;-)

  32. therling says:

    I’ve tried to tell folks from places like Europe what our health care situation is like, but they won’t believe me because they just can’t see any industrialized country, much less one of the richest countries in the world, would treat its people in such a way.

  33. keirmeister says:

    Thank you for getting to the real point of this story. It’s been making the rounds since first reported, but I had yet to see a news person ask the most basic question: How in the world does a birth – even a premature one requiring hospital stay – cost $1 million?

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