September 1, 2016
EIGHT DAY HOSPITAL STAY COUPLE COST JASPER COUPLE $50,000
New Canadian acquires rare bacterial infection while in between Alberta Health Care coverage
A Jasper couple is seeking help to pay an expensive medical bill after falling through the cracks of the public health system.
Yun Chih (Jasmine) Liang first came to Jasper from Taiwan in 2013. She entered the country on a working holiday visa, then secured employment as a temporary foreign worker. When that contract expired, Liang went back to Taiwan with plans to return to Canada to marry her fiance, Jasperite Jon Goulet. However, when Liang came back to Jasper to surprise her future-husband on his birthday, she started to feel ill.
“Three days after I got back to Jasper we went for a bike ride and I started to feel fatigue,” she said. “Soon I had a fever and bad chills and my throat and ears started to hurt.”
Knowing that she was no longer covered under Alberta Health Care, Liang was reluctant to seek treatment. However, her symptoms were becoming worse. Finally, with the support of Goulet, Liang decided to go to Jasper’s Cottage Medical Clinic where she was told she probably had the flu.
“I said ‘Really? It’s very painful,’” Liang said.
The doctor advised her to take Tylenol and to sleep it off. Two more days passed, but the symptoms weren’t going away. Another visit to the clinic—this time to a different doctor—and she was told the same thing: it looks like flu, take some over-the-counter painkillers and get some rest.
“I thought maybe I wasn’t tough enough,” Liang said.
At home with stomach pains, Liang complained to her mother over Skype about her situation. She was throwing up and very weak. Her mom, worried for her daughter’s health, messaged Goulet and requested him to take Jasmine to the hospital immediately. Rushing home from work, Goulet saw at once his partner’s condition had worsened.
“This is a person who’s always smiling and happy, now she was just lying in bed,” he said.
Before they could get admitted to the Jasper Seton Healthcare Centre, however, they needed to prove Jasmine had Alberta Health Care coverage. Although they both knew she had none, and clerks at the hospital informed them that a night’s stay in the hospital would cost $900, and that a full day of medical services would cost more than $5,500, they felt like they had no choice but to seek medical treatment. In the back of their minds they had hoped their bill could be covered retroactively—Jasmine had been in the system before, after all—but because their emergency took place on a weekend, they weren’t able to ascertain any information; Alberta Health’s administrative offices were closed, and so were the offices of Liang’s travel insurance provider.
After spending that night in the hospital, however, the next day Goulet was told that they could indeed get Alberta Health care coverage. As such, he attempted to navigate the health care system and obtain the proper documentation of Liang’s time in Canada. He was told that they needed a copy of Liang’s immigration records, but after days of getting hung up on by Citizen and Immigration Canada’s automated call centre, then another week waiting for a response, he was told by another AHS administrator that they needed a different document. In the meantime, Jasmine’s illness was mystifying local docs and the constant reminder of their increasing bill from local hospital staff was only adding to their upset.
“We were being told twice a day how much it was going to be, it was ridiculous,” Goulet said.
The biggest issue for Liang and Goulet is that they say they were misled by Alberta Health Services agents about their eligibility for coverage. Although Goulet admits they were told different things by different agents, the couple chose to have faith that they would be covered, once they provided the proper documentation.
“As we were told yes [we would be covered] by some agents, we were trying to grasp at those straws,” Goulet said.
Medical staff were also trying to grasp at straws to find the source of Liang’s illness. Finally, two weeks after she was released from the hospital with a misdiagnosis, Liang’s friends back in Taiwan tipped local doctors off. They pointed to an article written on a traveler who died from Scrub Typhus, a bacteria infection acquired from a mite bite on Orchid Island, where Liang had travelled before coming back to Canada. The bacterial infection is extremely rare in Alberta.
Fortunately, doctors had narrowed down the infection enough that they'd given her the right antibiotics so that her symptoms had ceased. She had already been released from hospital and was now trying to enjoy her honeymoon (Goulet and Liang married via a very basic ceremony and were visiting his family in Ontario). Unfortunately, the damage had been done—not to her health per se, but to the chance of getting covered by travel insurance. The initial diagnosis was hepatitis, a condition apparently not covered by her insurers. Jasper doctors have since given her a new diagnosis, but the insurance company is fighting back on the coverage and Liang and Goulet aren’t optimistic that they will be able to win the argument.
“We will have to hire a lawyer, which will cost more money,” Liang predicted.
For Liang and Goulet, the amount of money they are being told they owe Alberta Health Services is already unfathomably massive. Based on eight days in the hospital at $5,612.50 per day plus lab tests, doctors’ fees, x-rays, ultrasound scans and two ambulance rides between Jasper and Hinton to get a CT-Scan (which also goes on the bill), the initial tally was just over $47,700. Since then, Liang and Goulet have appealed and Alberta Health Services has told them over the phone that the total will be reduced by approximately $20,000—although they’ve yet to receive a new bill. While the couple is thankful for this reduction, they’re also confused as to how administrators calculate such a mark down.
“They probably just felt sorry or something after they found out I’m not covered,” Liang surmised.
The couple is hoping others feel for their situation, too. They have started an online fundraising campaign to help cover costs and plan to go back to the travel insurance company—although Liang’s dad, who is the owner of the policy, isn’t confident they’ll be covered. On the off chance they do get coverage through insurance, they will first have to pay the bill before the company will reimburse them, according to Liang. If that’s the case, they plan to pay back every penny they’re reimbursed to those who donated out of their pockets.
“We aren’t looking to make money from this,” Goulet said.
For Alberta Health Services’ part, communications staff said they could not discuss specific cases due to patient confidentiality, however, Liang says that in her most recent conversations with AHS agents, they’ve indicated she was never eligible for coverage.
“They apologized for misleading us but I have to pay for their wrong info now,” Liang said.
“This [fundraiser] is our last hope.”
Find Liang and Goulet’s online fundraiser by searching Jon Goulet at www.crowdrise.com