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Ontario woman forced to pay $23K medical bill after heart attack abroad despite travel insurance

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An Ontario woman who took a trip to the Cayman Islands in January was hospitalized after a heart attack and even though she had travel medical insurance, she was told she needed to pay the hospital bill herself.

Maria Malka Lazar of Toronto was on the beach enjoying her vacation when she suddenly felt unwell and almost passed out.

“It was really bad. I thought at this moment, I’m out,” Malka Lazar said, adding, “The ambulance came and from there, they took me straight to the hospital.”

When Malka Lazar’s son Dean Malka heard the news, he flew to be by her side and help deal with her travel medical insurance.

However, Malka said there were issues getting through to the insurance company on the phone and online.

“I was frustrated because it was an emergency travel situation,” Malka told CTV News Toronto.

Malka Lazar was hospitalized for two days and when the medical bill came to US$16,809, about $23,000 Canadian, she was told before leaving the hospital she would have to pay the bill.

Maria Malka Lazar (left) and her son Dean Malka are seen in this undated image. (Supplied)“Fortunately, we had the means of coming up with the payment, but what if we hadn’t? It was a little scary,” said Malka.

Malka Lazar said, “I felt really bad. I felt let down because I was paying the insurance. I had the insurance.”

Malka Lazar said she purchased the insurance through Ontario Blue Cross. However, four months later, she said she had yet to be reimbursed.

Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc., told CTV News Toronto that while an insurance company usually deals directly with a hospital for billing, in the event you have to pay it yourself – even if it’s for a legitimate claim – you can expect delays.

“Nothing is quick here. They are going to be ordering doctors records, they are going to see if you were stable prior to departure, they are going to see if you declared a medical condition that appears in your doctor’s notes. This can take months,” Firestone said.

When CTV News Toronto reached out to Ontario Blue Cross, a spokesperson said in a statement: “In instances where the client does not contact us immediately for support and chooses to pay a medical facility directly, it can take longer to process a claim as we may need to validate the expenses related to the claim, including but not limited to charges for medical care being usual and customary for the medical condition. We have been in contact with this client and are confident that this claim has been resolved to their satisfaction,” the statement read.

After four months, Ontario Blue Cross reimbursed Malka Lazar $22,729 Canadian, which was great news for the Malka family.

“It was a huge relief and she was really happy, she got the cheque this morning,” said Malka.

Even though most travel medical insurance plans will bill a hospital directly, each can have different terms and conditions which is why it’s important to study your coverage carefully before taking a trip. 

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