What is a “pre-existing” condition? (travel) | OLHI - OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance | Resolution of your Canadian Insurance Concerns | OLHI

OLHI OLHI – OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance | Resolution of your Canadian Insurance Concerns | OLHI

What is a “pre-existing” condition? (travel)

Mr. Z. purchased out-of-Canada emergency medical expense insurance in connection with a trip to the U.S. While there, he needed medical treatment for a kidney stone and, afterward, submitted a claim to the insurer for the expenses he incurred.

The claim was denied because his U.S. hospital records noted that he had experienced flank/back pain a week before his departure and he had not disclosed this to his insurer before traveling.

The exclusions section of his policy denied coverage for any sickness, injury or medical condition, occurring before the date he left on his trip, which was expected to lead to treatment or hospitalization. In sum, the insurer believed that Mr. Z. had a “pre-existing medical condition” that he was required to tell them about before traveling. All travel insurance contracts contain a clause of this nature; however, the exact disclosure requirements vary from contract to contract.

Mr. Z. appealed the denial and followed the insurer’s complaint process, where the decision was upheld by the insurer. He then submitted his complaint to OLHI for review.

With both the details provided by the consumer and the insurer’s file in hand, OLHI’s Dispute Resolution Officer (“DRO”) reviewed the case and concluded that the denial was entirely based on statements contained in the U.S. hospital records regarding prior back/flank pain. The DRO found that there had been no contact initiated by the insurer with either the U.S. hospital or the consumer. He also observed that the U.S. hospital notes stated that the consumer had experienced pain one week prior, that went away, and, in direct contradiction, that Mr. Z. had experienced “unremitting flank/back pain” for the entire week prior to his departure.

Although the insurer’s Ombudsman had suggested that the claim be paid, the business unit declined the claim.

OLHI’s DRO expressed doubt about the accuracy of the U.S. hospital records and suggested that this could be the basis for OLHI to approach the insurer. It was recommended that the complaint be escalated to an OLHI OmbudService Officer (“OSO”) for further investigation.

The OSO spoke with the consumer directly and learned that he had made no mention whatsoever of any “flank pain” but that the back pain he had experienced one week prior to departure went away on its own with over-the-counter pain relief and a warm bath. Our OSO also reviewed the documents provided by the insurer, including the insurer’s claims review process documents. His findings echoed those of the insurer’s Ombudsman.

In his submission to the insurer, the OSO highlighted the incongruities in the U.S. hospital records. He suggested that the policy exclusion could not be fairly invoked given the fact that Mr. Z.’s prior back pain had gone away with a warm bath and an over-the-counter pain reliever. He also suggested that it was improbable that anyone with constant, severe pain leading up to this trip could travel anywhere and hence the unreliability of the U.S. hospital admission record. The OSO recommended that the insurer reconsider its’ decision.

The insurer thanked the OSO for his comprehensive review and supported OLHI’s recommendation to pay this claim. The consumer‘s claim was paid shortly thereafter.


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.

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