Should Travel Insurance Cover Pregnancies?

The case of an Australian couple that had a premature child born to them in B.C. has hit the headlines and elicited a lot of emotional response.  We all want to be compassionate, until the bill comes in.

According to press reports, the young mother gave birth to a daughter at 26 weeks into her pregnancy just prior to boarding a return flight to Sydney. The child, weighing less than one kg at birth, had to spend three months in a Vancouver hospital until it was stable enough to be released. The cost of care ran to almost $1 million.  Though the couple had travel insurance, they found it did not cover unexpected complications associated with pregnancy. The hospital settled for a $300 a month payment for over 200 years.

Then the firestorm: Why can’t the Australian government pay the bill? Why shouldn’t Canada pay since the child was legally a Canadian citizen? Why shouldn’t the travel insurance company pay?

According to the couple, they tried to find travel insurance that would cover pregnancy and they thought they had it, until they looked at the details. In fact, no travel insurance plan will pay for a pre-determined event such as childbirth, it’s not designed for that purpose. And travelling 26 weeks into a pregnancy, almost 8000 miles from home, is risky.

Despite all of the warnings travel insurers issue about their products covering only unforeseen, unexpected emergencies, not pre-existing conditions, and definitely not conditions that can be expected to result in the need for hospitalization or medical care while on their trip—customers are shocked when insurers refuse to pay. They’re also shocked at how much it costs to care for a dangerously ill patient in a modern hospital.

Well it’s time to get over the shock and start thinking clearly. Modern medicine is expensive because it works miracles, and we have come to expect miracles when one of our loved ones is in peril.  We demand nothing but the best…even when we’re in a foreign country.

Travel insurance, by its very nature, must be strictly limited to conditions and situations that are related to travel. It’s not a substitute for comprehensive, government health coverage as it’s known in Australia, Canada and many other countries around the world.  If it were, and if it covered births, hip and knee replacements, gastric banding, nose jobs and tummy tucks it would cost ALL travellers multiples more than it does now—even those needing no emergency services abroad.

There are tradeoffs that need to be made: affordable travel insurance limited to unexpected emergencies, or insurance that covers everything and can be afforded by very few.  Take your pick.

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