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Side effects of medications (health)

Ms. E. had extended health insurance through her employer. She disclosed that she suffered from seizures. This insurance also covered out-of-country emergency medical expenses. While on vacation, Ms. E. became ill and was hospitalized. Doctors determined that she had a bad reaction to a drug she was taking to treat a pre-existing condition. While in hospital, Ms. E. became worse due to an unrelated illness and had to return to Canada immediately.

The insurance company covered the costs of Ms. E.’s transportation back home to continue her care. However, in their final position letter, they stated they would not cover treatment for her reaction to the drug. The company decided that Ms. E.’s pre-existing condition extended to any side effects from medications taken for this condition.

Ms. E. asked OLHI to become involved. She told our Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) that she believed her insurance company was setting a bad precedent. She said their decision could lead to denying coverage to any person on medication who suffers a side effect. For example, Ms. E. questioned what would happen if a person has a bad side effect from an over-the-counter pain reliever. Could the insurance company refuse to cover treatment, if this pain reliever treats a pre-existing condition?

The DRO recommended that an OmbudService Officer (OSO) investigate Ms. E.’s case. The OSO learned that a doctor saw Ms. E. when she returned to Canada. The doctor felt that it could not be proven with certainty that the Ms. E.’s problems were side effects of her medication. He suggested that her problems could have been caused by the unrelated illness she had after she was hospitalized.

The OSO contacted the insurance company’s Ombuds office. He advised that Ms. E.’s policy did not specify that it would not cover side effects from a medication. He also reinforced the fact that there was uncertainty around what caused Ms. E.’s illness. This made it impossible to tell, conclusively, that her treatment was for her pre-existing condition. He recommended that the insurer reconsider its position and pay Ms. E.’s claim.

The insurer, upon further reflection, agreed and provided payment on the out-of-country medical expenses.


Disclaimer: Names, places and facts have been modified in order to protect the privacy of the parties involved. This case study is for illustration purposes only. Each complaint OLHI reviews contains different facts and contract wording may vary. As a result, the application of the principles expressed here may lead to different results in different cases.