We hear the warnings all the time–if you’re travelling, make sure you buy travel insurance in case you get sick or have an accident. A Coquitlam family did that, but when they tried to collect, they weren’t covered.

“I was angry. I was sad. I was upset. I was hurt,” said Lila Johnson.

She and her husband Steven are now facing medical bills nearing $100,000 after Steven’s mother had a stroke.

The family brought Steven’s mom, Shirley Cooke, from Jamaica to help look after the kids for the summer as they had done last year. They said they had bought a 12-month travel insurance policy for her the previous year but it had lapsed.

So after Shirley arrived in Canada, they purchased another one-year policy.

That was on July 14. The next day, Shirley had a stroke had was admitted to hospital in New Westminster.

“I was walking and watching TV with my son and I told him I’m going to bed,” Shirley said.

The family says she has no prior history with heart problems so they were surprised when the insurance company denied their claim.

“I mean, it’s gut-wrenching. These situations—no one likes this,” said Alex Bittner with the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

The policy the Johnsons had purchased was effective July 14, but since they purchased it after Cooke arrived in Canada she was subject to a 48-hour waiting period for coverage.

And it was clearly stated in the policy:

Coverage for losses resulting from any Sickness will only begin following the Waiting Period if you purchase your policy:

a) After your arrival in Canada.

“There is no waiting period for accidents. There is, however, for illness or sickness,” Bittner explained.

“It’s not like you can help waking up the next morning and having a stroke,” Lila said.

They would have been covered if they hadn’t let a previous insurance policy lapse.

CTV Vancouver reached out to the underwriter of the travel insurance policy, Starr Insurance and Reinsurance Ltd., and was told, “We’re not at liberty to discuss individual policyholder matters with the media. When issues like this do arise, we know they can be stressful and we work hard to resolve them quickly.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay it,” Steven said.

Both he and Lila work and have two young children to take care of and are barely making ends meet.

However, after CTV Vancouver contacted the company the family received a letter saying the case had been reviewed.

The insurance company says it will cover losses after the waiting period ended - meaning anything charged from July 16 onward. Now, it appears the family is only on the hook for medical expenses for the day Shirley had her stroke.

That should greatly lighten the financial burden they had been facing.

If you have an insurance claim denied, you can get an ombudsman involved or file a complaint with B.C.’s Financial Institutions Commission.