A newborn baby is home in the United States after U.S. officials intervened in what they call a two-day-long billing dispute.
Vacationing in Cancun, an Indiana couple unexpectedly became parents to a baby boy 12 weeks early. But they say the private hospital “extorted” them for fees that quickly rose to US$30,000, refusing to release him to a medical jet until the bill was paid.
An administrative representative at Hospiten Cancun, interviewed by ABC News, denies that they refused to treat mother or baby and have them released “on the street” if they did not pay upfront.
It is also unknown how much the couple ultimately paid Hospiten Cancun, which is part of a chain of 12 private hospitals in Spain, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
More than $48,000 raised on a GoFundMe page paid for the AirMed jet and its medical staff that brought Beckham and his mother back to Indiana. Any leftover funds will pay for Beckham’s medical care here on out, the baby’s grandmother said.
It all started when Michaela Smith and Larry Ralph Jr. rushed to Hospiten Cancun when Smith started to feel contractions on July 18. Baby Beckham was born just at under 3 pounds via emergency C-section. The baby requires an incubator and constant medical supervision, including a special flight home, to where the parents have insurance.
The couple planned to “babymoon” in Mexico from July 14 to July 19. Michaela Smith had received clearance from her doctor to travel out of the country, her mother said.
But things got ugly very quickly once they made an emergency trip to the hospital, said Michaela’s father.
“They were threatening to put him literally on the streets, a baby in an incubator,” Larry Smith Sr. told WRTV in Indianapolis. “Complete strong-arm tactics.”
Smith and Ralph Jr. were allegedly charged $3,000 up front, $4,000 for them to see baby Beckham and tens of thousands more for their continued care, according to Michaela Smith’s mother, Elaine Smith.
“It just escalated. It kept going, and going,” she said.
In a Hospiten Cancun pamphlet, a “normal” vaginal birth costs the equivalent of US$1,716. A C-section is priced at US$2,070. That amount includes, but is not limited to, two nights of hospitalization, anesthesia, neonatal equipment and an incubator.
Without sharing details of how the dispute was resolve, the hospital completely contradicts the family’s version of events.
“The doctors were doing everything to [make] sure the baby would be alive because [he] was born in this condition,” the hospital representative said to ABC News, adding that the hospital did not hold the couple against their will.
“In this moment, the baby was in the NICU and they were waiting,” the representative said. “[We] provided the medical records so they could take the baby back to the United States. We didn’t care about the money. We gave him all the medical records [for] the certificate of birth. We provided them with everything.”
Not so, according to U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who said he joined the State Department to obtain both a birth certificate and a medical jet to get him back home.
Hollingsworth said that the hospital tried to extort money in exchange for medical information on the birth of their son, making it difficult to obtain a birth certificate.
“Demands fell once they realized the more and more attention the United States and the representatives were paying to the situation,” Hollingsworth told the American Broadcasting Company. “We just worked to find different options for baby Beckham to get home. “It certainly is scary, but my first thought was about baby Beckham’s health and making sure we got him the care that he needed and got him to Riley [a hospital in Indiana].”
Both Hollingsworth and Elaine Smith said they believe the hospital responded to increased pressure from the State Department and U.S. government officials.
Elaine Smith said she believes her daughter and grandson did receive good care at Hospiten Cancun — the real issue was the staff’s allegedly demanding more and more money, and posing threats to her family.
“She did get good care and they did keep my grandson alive and for that, I’m grateful,” she said.
Sources: ABC News, Hospiten Cancun