For all our planning and dreaming of a relaxing holiday under the sun, reality can bite. Your flight gets delayed. Or cancelled. Bags are lost. Hotels have bedbugs.

These problems are small kumara compared to debilitating sickness in a foreign country. If you're very unlucky, you get critically ill on the first day of a second honeymoon in Bali, which is what happened to Hamilton woman Abby Hartley.

We know her story because her family set up a Givealittle page when Hartley's travel insurer refused to pay out. After emergency surgery to remove a section of twisted bowel, she developed a blood infection. She remains in an induced coma in Bali.

Read more: Dawn Picken: Some life hacks better left undone
Dawn Picken: Don't rubbish our home sweet home

Advertisement

An appeal to the New Zealand Government to medivac her home failed, with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters saying Government is unable to fund costs of medical care and evacuation.

This is where a community of 4000+ souls stepped in, donating about $237,000 to a Givealittle page (the charitable foundation will take 5 per cent of that total, or nearly $12,000). The cost of medical evacuation has been pegged at $170,000, which National Party leader Simon Bridges says someone he knows has arranged to pay.

Just this week, details emerged alleging Hartley failed to declare a pre-existing condition to her insurer. TVNZ reports the Balinese hospital confirmed on Tuesday Hartley bought insurance with Cover-More Travel insurance through Air New Zealand but did not disclose a pre-existing bowel condition before leaving for Bali with husband, Richard. The family has refused to name the insurer. The insurer has declined to comment.

Daughter, Sophie, writes on Givealittle "… the reason the insurance company denied our claim is because they said it was 'related' to a pre-existing condition".

Related to a pre-existing condition, or because of a pre-existing condition? We don't know. Follow the logic of the former, and any affliction could be related to a previously diagnosed illness. Get pneumonia on holiday? Too bad, you once had bronchitis. Ten years ago. No insurance money for you.

By the time many of us hit age 30, we're moving masses of pre-existing conditions. Life, diet, exercise (or lack thereof), pollution, alcohol and gene mutations render us difficult, if not impossible, to insure. I'd suggest getting cover for everything before age 25, but travel insurance policies require you to declare any illness contracted between the time you buy the policy and the time you depart. In other words, we're screwed.

In fact, the Medical Association of New Zealand in 2011 questioned a claim by Southern Cross Health Society that a quarter of its adult members have pre-existing conditions, which are not covered by their policies. The Medical Association said health insurers often mistake treatment in a client's medical records for pre-existing conditions when they don't constitute ongoing health problems.

The Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme reported complaints had reached their highest number in nearly 20 years. The scheme investigated 320 complaints and received 3357 complaint inquiries in 2017-2018. Forty-six complaints related to travel insurance.

The woman or man in the foreign hospital bed could someday be one of us. Naturally, we want more information. Did Hartley truly fail to disclose her pre-existing condition, or did the insurer decide any pre-existing condition absolved them from paying for any illness whatsoever?

Some insurance policies won't pay to treat a condition you didn't know you had. You could be in hospital, racking up hefty bills thinking you're covered because you've fully disclosed your medical history, when your insurer thinks otherwise and denies your claim.

Donors on the Hartleys' Givealittle page in the Q&A section have repeatedly asked the family to reveal the insurer. One poster writes "Many have given thousands of $$$ and my feeling is that you and your family are obligated to fight the insurance company to the bitter end …"

Hartley's daughter, Sophie, writes, "… we won't be naming or taking on the insurance company as of yet, purely because of the fact that we are all under extreme stress right now and don't need any more." The family closed the page to donations last week.

I hope the Hartleys can one day fight the good fight. Several people with expertise in law and insurance have offered free services if the family decides to take on the insurance company. For now, they have more important matters to attend to, namely Hartley's survival and homecoming.

Whether this is a cautionary tale about an insurer's failure to honour a policy, or the story of a couple for whom travelling was a high-stakes gamble, is something we won't know until more facts trickle in.

What we do know is a large donor community was willing to rescue a Kiwi mum when a business and a Government would not.

It's also a reminder the best insurance is one you never have to use.