International student shocked by $123K in medical bills after 24-day Winnipeg hospital stay

An international student at the University of Manitoba says he’s faced medical bills totaling over $ 123,000 after a long stint at two Winnipeg hospitals – and he hopes his story will change other people in his situation.

Calvin Lugalambi will be studying civil engineering at the University of Manitoba this fall, after completing foundation courses at the International College of Manitoba.

He says he started having severe stomach aches in May last year after his final winter semester. He went to the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital in Winnipeg and was later taken to St. Boniface Hospital for emergency surgery because of an obstruction of the bowel.

That’s when he learned that his insurance had expired because he was between schools.

“I said … wow, that’s tough. But I said you know the only thing I can do is get help anyway. So run what you gotta do, we can take care of it later if I try. .. fix that. “

He says he didn’t realize he needed to get additional insurance to cover time between schools.

“I’m a newbie here,” Lugalambi said in an interview with CBC News. “I don’t know the rules.”

International College of Manitoba’s insurance provider Guard.Me issued retroactive insurance dated May 4, two days after it was diagnosed with multiple adhesions in the small intestine.

However, when he applied to pay hospital bills, the company declined, saying his stomach condition was a pre-existing condition as it was diagnosed two days before the gap insurance started.

The University of Manitoba is working with Manitoba Blue Cross to provide coverage for international student insurance, but was unable to cover it either because he did not have a Manitoba health card and was not yet a student at U of M.

Guard.Me declined to comment on Lugalambi’s case.

Lugalambi’s hospital stay eventually extended to more than three weeks after contracting COVID-19, and his medical bills are now thousands of dollars for each night of his stay.

CLOCK | Calvin Lugalambi explains how he got more than $ 120,000 in hospital bills:

In May, Calvin Lugalambi was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain and had to undergo an operation for an intestinal obstruction. At that point, he found out that his student health insurance had expired, leaving him with a medical bill of over $ 120,000. 2:31

A friend recently set up a GoFundMe page to help out Lugalambi.

“He’s already paying more than double the fees [domestic students]”said Brett Carter.” Somebody’s got to do something. “

The campaign seeks to raise $ 126,000 to cover Lugalambi’s medical and travel expenses for his mother, who came to Winnipeg to care for him while he recovered.

Lugalambi came to Canada from Uganda for the first time in 2018 with his twin brother Conrad to complete a post-secondary education.

Conrad says it was hard for everyone to watch his brother go through such a difficult time.

“My family was scared,” he said. “You are thousands of miles away … all you can do is call and hope for the best.”

“We need them to be fair”

The hospital has proposed a decade-long payment plan of $ 1,000 a month that it still can’t afford, according to Lugalambi.

“I don’t like that at the moment because I can’t pay. We don’t have the money,” says Lugalambi.

“I have to worry about my next semester – I don’t know where it’s going to come from. But even here we have to remain positive in difficult times. “

In 2018, the progressive Conservative government of Manitoba amended the Health Insurance Act, repealing a clause that gave international students access to universal health care in post-secondary education. Since then, schools have offered private insurance options for international students.

“This particular situation … [is] a result of the PC government willingly reclaiming Manitoba health cards from international students just to save a few million dollars, “said Alexandra Koslock, chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students in Manitoba.

International students were “seen as easy targets to reduce household expenses because of their citizenship status,” she said in an interview.

In a statement to CBC News, the province said that additional health insurance is available to students through their schools.

Lugalambi says he appealed to Manitoba Health but they said they couldn’t help him.

He hopes his story will draw attention to others who may be going through similar situations and encourage the province to make changes for international students.

“I think we contribute a lot to this community. We come here from afar. … Some people [empty] their bags so they can raise their children, “he said.

“We appreciate the opportunity, but we need it to be fair. … If we get health complications, many of us may not be able to survive because we are unable to pay. ”

Despite everything, Lugalambi says that he wants to finish school here.

“I don’t want my stay in Canada to be affected. I want to finish my education and make good progress and be a constructive member of society as I intended to be.”