A New Brunswick couple who spends a few months of every winter in Mexico had the adventure of their lives this time around.
And not in a good way.
Paula and David Hughes were almost stranded when a prolonged trip to Clinica de Mérida resulted in a ruinous bill.
In a rental house not far from Mérida, David and Paula were vacationing without any medical insurance, reasoning neither of them had ever been sick and they wanted to save money.
Then, in late February, David almost stopped breathing and collapsed on his bed.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” the 69-year-old Canadian told CBC. “I couldn’t get enough air. I started breathing harder and harder.”
He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, given oxygen and told he exhibited symptoms of a collapsed lung. After more tests, doctors found a malignant tumor in his right lung.
Too ill to fly back to New Brunswick, David ended up staying a month and undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy, but unable to find out how much the treatments would cost.
“When I asked the doctor, he would say, ‘Well, the administrative department takes care of that,’ ” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “When you ask the administration, they’ll say, ‘Well we haven’t added it up yet, we don’t really know.'”
But the hospital was clear about the bill when it was time to go home.
“Three people come into your room with all these papers,” Hughes said. “It’s all suddenly been added up. And they ask my wife to go downstairs to meet with them to settle the cost.”
The total was $65,000 in Canadian dollars, or $50,600 in U.S dollars.
Panicked, they drained their bank accounts and cashed in their retirement plans to the tune of $55,000, and were still short $10,000.
First saying they couldn’t leave the hospital without paying the full bill, the hospital manager eventually suggested taking Paula’s passport in exchange for letting the couple free.
Friends and family back in New Brunswick pitched in to help.
Paula took the money to the hospital Tuesday and got her passport back. They fly home next week, penniless.
Luis Guillermo Cruz Rico, a Toronto lawyer with clients in Mexico and Canada, agreed the Hughes were treated badly.
“It looks like the health-care provider acted in an unreasonable way, and this couple were victim of unfair practices,” Cruz Rico said.
Cruz Rico said foreigners admitted to Mexican hospitals should get full disclosure regarding their treatment and costs.
“We’re dealing with two different cultures, two different languages,” he said. “The biggest challenge Canadians in particular have faced is they’re thinking things work in Mexico as in Canada.”
The CBC attempted to reach Clinica de Merida, but has not received a comment.