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Planes, Trains and Travel Insurance
The fine print in your travel insurance may leave you more exposed than you think.

Universal healthcare stops at the Canadian border. Unfortunately, some insurance plans – even in the form of travel insurance – stop there as well.

This is hardly a comforting thought for travelers who could face the steep price of a foreign hospital stay. The bills for a regular U.S. hospital room can approach $3,000 per day, and the price of specialized care can be double that amount. In one high-profile example, the family of Canadian freestyle skiing pioneer Sarah Burke faced medical bills of about $200,000 after she died in a recent training crash.

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) won’t make a dent in costs like these. Outside Canada, the plan pays as little as $50 a day for a visit to an emergency room, $200 a day for most inpatient services, and a maximum of $400 per day for time in an operating room, coronary unit, intensive care unit or neonatal unit. Not a dime will be paid for ambulance services.

This is why experienced travelers have travel insurance.

But even though group travel insurance plan might offer up to $5 million in unlimited coverage, every policy can include tight restrictions.

Many limits will be in place before the first bags are packed. Insurers have been known to refuse to cover medical costs for women who are more than 32 weeks pregnant, or travelers who have recently had surgery or medical treatment in Canada. In fact, coverage may also be denied to those who are simply waiting for test results, or have surgery planned in the near future.

Even the smallest change in medication can affect coverage. Some policies will not pay for emergency medical treatment if someone has been prescribed a related medication – or had the dosage changed -- in the past several years.  Something as simple as a baby aspirin can be used as proof of a pre-existing heart condition.

Vacation plans and destinations will play their own role in decisions. Injuries sustained during risky activities like base jumping or parasailing might not be covered. Travelers are also expected to follow warnings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which advises Canadians about conditions in war zones or areas hit by natural disasters.

Foreign hospitals don’t receive a blank cheque for suggested medical procedures, either. Payments for tests like an MRI or PET scan may only be made when costs are pre-authorized, making it important to call an insurer after any accident.

The best protection comes by working with benefits providers to review the fine print in any travel policy, and taking a copy of the travel insurance card and related policy on any trip. Travelers can also arm themselves with a number from the insurer to call in the event of any emergency, and that will help to locate approved medical facilities or even arrange admittance.

It all takes a little extra planning, but these details can make sure travelers are protected whenever they leave home.

Finally, I have recently watched a CBC Marketplace presentation on the importance of travel insurance entitled Tripped Up. If you have missed it, I encourage you to take a moment to watch. Simply click here and you will be redirected to Marketplace.

Top Tips:

  • Contact your doctor to discuss any potential restrictions on travel.
  • Examine travel insurance policies to identify limits that apply to any pre-existing medical conditions or changes in medication.
  • Contact insurers before tests are performed in a foreign country. Procedures like an MRI or PET scan may only be covered if they are pre-authorized.
  • Monitor travel restrictions issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (http://www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng.asp). Travel insurance can be denied in restricted areas.
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