Why travel insurance is a trip essential, regardless of age
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash.com
by Agnes Chung
Every so often, news headlines feature Canadians running into costly financial surprises resulting from insufficient travel insurance coverage or failure to understand their policy.
Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA) 2019 traveller survey revealed “45 percent of Canadians believe provincial health insurance cover some medical expenses incurred while travelling abroad”, while “26 per cent are unsure of their coverage.”
“You should buy the best travel health insurance you can afford before you leave,” even for a day trip to the United States, according to Canadian government website, travel.gc.ca. Sometimes circumstances happen beyond your control. Proactive action can alleviate financial burdens for travellers and their families. Insurance is essential even for infants.
Limited coverage by provincial plans
Provincial plans cover most medical services for travel within Canada, except Quebec. Coverage varies depending on province, but it’s still worth considering travel insurance.
For British Columbia, coverage is limited to $75 a day for “Emergency Hospital Care” for travel in Quebec or out-of-country. Alberta pays for services provided only by a General or Auxillary Hospital, not private hospital, while travelling abroad.
Extended health and credit card, boarding denial
Most coverage offered by employment extended health insurance and credit card companies is limited. From personal experience, purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy is well worth it.
Airlines have the right to deny boarding for a passenger who could be suffering from any disease or physical or mental condition that may be deemed a potential danger, requires medical attention or adversely affects other passengers and crew, or to the aircraft safety, according to the World Health Organization.
“If flight boarding is denied due to sickness, to make a claim, customers would need cancellation insurance, and a doctor’s note advising them not to travel” says Meghan Hill, BCAA Senior Manager of Customer Experience, in an email.
THIA golden rules: What you need to know
Always purchase from a licenced insurer and do your research. Prices and benefits can differ significantly.
Your health: pre-existing health conditions, consult your doctor. Some policies require you to be ‘medically stable’ over a designated time period. You may need to buy a pre-existing condition waiver.
Your trip: where, how long and type of activities. A destination where Global Affairs Canada or Public Health Agency of Canada has issued a formal travel advisory and/or warning to “Avoid All or Non-Essential Travel” will invalidate your claim if advisory is posted prior to insurance purchase.
Are you participating in extreme sports, e.g. scuba diving or downhill skiing? Inquire about policy extension while on your trip.
Your policy: type of policy and coverage, read the fine print carefully. Common policies include travel medical insurance, trip cancellation and interruption, baggage and air travel related expenses.
Trip cancellation and interruption provides protection from weather and unforeseen circumstances, e.g. illness, hurricane, earthquake, health epidemic or a missed flight connection. You cannot claim for a missed connection due to your fault or if denied entry to a country.
Key policy clauses to be aware:
• Medical emergencies and evacuation: treatment limit, whether full coverage is provided for potential travel cost including an emergency trip home?
• Stolen or lost luggage –Are your prescribed medication, equipment and valuables included?
• Emergency assistance: toll free help number to an English speaker
• Repatriation in the event of death: What travel cost is covered?
• Exclusions: What circumstances are not covered? Most policies exclude injuries or illnesses due to war, disease, radioactive contamination, engaging in an unlawful act, legally drunk or under the influence of drugs, pregnancy and birth of a child.
“In the recent Ukrainian airline crash, repatriation would be covered if passengers bought BCAA travel medical insurance,” says Hill. For claims related to alcohol consumption, “claim decisions are based on the treating physician’s assessment or medical record evidence where the claim occurred, that sickness or an accident was caused by alcohol consumption, abuse or misuse,” she adds. Check the legal blood alcohol limit in your travel destination.
“Coverage may be provided during the first 31 weeks for complications of pregnancy. The premature birth of a child may be covered if the birth occurred during the first 31 weeks of pregnancy. In this situation, coverage may be provided for the mother, and up to $20,000 for medical expenses incurred by the newborn,” says Hill on BCAA’s policy.
Insurance policy fine print can be daunting. If you are unclear, ask your licenced insurer or seek legal help. Lower income individuals can access free legal advice at accessprobono.ca or lslap.bc.ca.
Your rights: You can cancel your policy within the 10 days ‘Free Look’ period if you bought it from a Canadian insurer. Ensure your policy states a full refund before you pay and your coverage limit is sufficient.
Your passport must be valid for up to six months beyond your intended return date for travel to the United States or abroad. For high risk adventures and trips to conflict or post-conflict areas, ask your travel insurance company for a list of recommended high-risk travel insurers.
Prior to trip departure, provide your family or friend a copy of your insurance policy for emergency intervention purposes, and register with Global Affairs Canada for free at Registration of Canadians Abroad: travel.gc.ca/travelling/publications/bon-voyage-but.