Health insurer apologises after cancer patient left in limbo for a month


Health insurer Bupa has apologised for failing to respond to a young man left fighting an aggressive type of leukaemia in Brisbane, and who is unable to return to his home country of Colombia during the coronavirus pandemic.

Student and chef Angelo Romero, 31, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in March, prompting emergency treatment in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH).

But as ABC News revealed last week, Mr Romero is unable to return home during the pandemic and his medical team has been growing increasingly concerned after waiting more than three weeks for a response from Bupa about his health coverage.

Angelo Romero had been working as a chef while studying in Australia.(Supplied)

Mr Romero’s initial phase of treatment is expected to cost more than $170,000.

In a statement released late on Monday, Bupa said it had offered a “sincere apology” to Mr Romero for the “delay” and his treatment costs would be paid “in full”.

“Unfortunately, there were some issues with the internal processes which caused unnecessary delays,” the statement said.

“We are contacting Mr Romero to confirm this for him and to apologise for the additional stress that this may have caused.

“We are reviewing our internal processes to ensure this experience does not happen again.”

Angelo Romero lies in a hospital bed after his first round of chemotherapy.
Angelo Romero lies in a hospital bed after his first round of chemotherapy.(Supplied)

Mr Romero’s leukaemia was only diagnosed in March, but a Bupa spokesman initially told ABC News eligibility in such claims could be dependent on any previously detected “signs or symptoms”.

“Where a case arises within the first 12 months of cover, the medical practitioner appointed by Bupa may need to assess eligibility for benefits under the pre-existing condition waiting period rule,” the Bupa spokesman said last week.

“In some cases, the initial information provided may be insufficient to determine if signs or symptoms were present in the six months prior to joining their health insurance, and the medical practitioner may request additional records from the member’s treating providers in order to make their assessment fairly.”

Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital building and sign at Herston on Brisbane's northside in August 2017.
Mr Romero and his RBWH medical team spent three weeks waiting for a response from Bupa.(ABC News: Julie Hornsey)

Mr Romero’s current policy was purchased less than a year ago, but he has held previous policies with the company for more than two years.

The 31-year-old said the turnaround was a “relief”.

“It was frustrating because it was already a month without any answer — even through my first round of chemo.

Angelo Romero (first left) with his family.
Angelo Romero (first left) with his family.(Supplied)

“I hoped they would at least say, ‘OK, we will cover the chemo’, while I waited for the rest,” Mr Romero said.

“I am not able to work for maybe six months or seven months, so it was a little bit of pressure for this type of situation.”

An online fundraising campaign organised by his family and friends has raised more than $100,000.

Mr Romero said any funds no longer needed would be donated to help other leukaemia patients in need.