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Relief as insurers back down on Inverness woman's huge US hospital bill

By Alasdair Fraser

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Becky Cobban during work in therapeutic animal psychology
Becky Cobban during work in therapeutic animal psychology

A WOMAN hit by a massive US hospital bill after two insurance companies refused to pay out has secured a reprieve after the Inverness Courier intervened.

Ex-Culloden Academy pupil Becky Cobban (24) spent six days in a New York State hospital after falling seriously ill with a burst appendix.

Her anxious mum and dad were initially told, to their horror, the family would need to meet treatment fees of at least £60,000 themselves.

The type 1 diabetic’s decision to avoid risking a return to her Inverness home during the coronavirus outbreak rendered one policy null and void after the other one had expired.

Now, almost two weeks after Ms Cobban was first hospitalised, insurers Liverpool Victoria have agreed to pay out.

An online crowdfunder started by her parents raised almost £7000 to help meet the bill. The cash will now be refunded or, with donors’ agreement, donated to the charity Diabetes UK.

The Glasgow University psychology graduate is in her second year of an internship with the charity Green Chimneys at Brewster near New York.

The organisation uses creatures from camels to cows to help children with learning difficulties through therapeutic animal psychology.

As a measure of her talents, the well-known local folk singer-songwriter was one of only 50 people allowed a special H3 visa to work in the US this year.

Her mother Ruth Hirst (58) arranged initial three-month travel insurance with Liverpool Victoria, covering her daughter from January 6 to April 5.

On March 6, Ms Hirst, from Culloden, planned ahead by buying a new Direct Travel insurance policy to provide cover from March 29 until her daughter’s scheduled return to Scotland in December this year.

Ms Cobban had arranged a home visit for March, but cancelled the trip given her vulnerability to Covid-19.

By the time she fell ill and was rushed to Putnam Hospital in Carmel hamlet, NY, on April 16 the Liverpool Victoria policy had expired.

Becky Cobban during work in therapeutic animal psychology
Becky Cobban during work in therapeutic animal psychology

The family were then shocked to discover Direct Travel had deemed the new policy null and void because she hadn’t returned to the UK before it began.

Together, the two policies cost around £600. The US health system is insurance-based in contrast to the free at the point of delivery NHS.

“We were initially told, very clearly by both companies, it was very likely we would have to pay the bill ourselves,” Ms Hirst said.

“We’ve been to hell and back, really. It has been really stressful, not least because my daughter was in hospital abroad and very poorly at one stage.

“The last few days have been a rollercoaster, having been told we would receive a pay-out and then having fresh doubt cast upon it by the claims department.

“We eventually got the email through on Tuesday afternoon this week confirming it was all okay. It is such a tremendous relief.”

Ms Cobban is making good progress in her recovery after being discharged on Thursday last week.

Ms Hirst and Becky’s dad Iain Cobban (61), of Croachy near Dores, remain extremely grateful to the many who contributed to the crowdfunder.

She stressed: “The support and generosity was absolutely overwhelming. I can’t thank people enough.

“We’re looking into how we refund the money or, if people prefer, we will donate their contribution to Diabetes UK.

“I’d also like to add my thanks to the Inverness Courier. I don’t think we would be where we are today if you hadn’t got involved.”

Liverpool Victoria’s claims director Martin Milliner said: “Ms Cobban found herself in a very unfortunate situation as a result of Covid-19.

“We’re pleased to be able to help the family at what has been a difficult time.

“Despite the fact she was technically no longer insured [by us] and had taken out a new insurance policy with another company, we have agreed to cover the full cost of the medical claims.

“We will also extend the cover of her policy by 28 days to help get Ms Cobban home.

Becky Cobban performing live on the local folk scene
Becky Cobban performing live on the local folk scene

“We started looking to remedy the situation as soon as Ms Hirst made us aware that her new insurance firm was not paying out last week, before the press were aware.

“Medical provision is expensive, particularly in the US, so it’s vital that customers ensure they are covered for their travels at all times or they could end up liable for tens of thousands of pounds worth of treatment.

“We wish Ms Cobban a speedy recovery and hope that she’s able to continue with her travel plans as soon as she’s able to.”

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