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Travel Planning
6 questions to ask before assuming you are protected by a group plan's travel insurance

Anna Leibenko didn't have any travel insurance when she stepped aboard a yacht on the Adriatic Sea. It wasn't there to protect her as she planned an early morning swim, hit her head on the boat's stairs and slipped into a coma. And it wasn't there to help the 24-year-old's family when her European adventure turned into a nightmare.

Friends and family of the former Toronto Argo cheerleader had to raise $93,000 just to cover the cost of an air ambulance to bring her home to Canada. There were other medical expenses on top of that.

But those who enjoy the security of a group plan's travel insurance may also be more exposed than they think. Insurance claims can be denied because of everything from the length of a trip to a choice of activities or pre-existing medical condition.

Medical care does not come cheap. In the U.S., an overnight hospital stay to treat a simple case of food poisoning can cost $5,300. According to Ingle International, which specializes in travel insurance, life-saving heart surgery can cost 10 times that amount.

It's why you should ask these 6 questions before assuming that travel insurance will protect you:

1. How long are you staying?

Semi-retired business owners have been known to enjoy extended stays in the Florida or Arizona sunshine, and work just enough hours to remain covered by a workplace group benefits plan. But a plan's travel insurance is usually designed to protect people during a short-term vacation, and may not support those who are out of the country for more than 60 days a year.

Anyone who plans to stay outside of Canada beyond the period outlined in a policy's fine print will want to secure individual travel insurance.

2. Has the government issued a travel advisory?

Some insurers will deny coverage to those who take a trip despite travel warnings issued by the Government of Canada (www.travel.gc.ca).

Few people will be surprised to learn about travel advisories for war-torn countries like Mali or Syria, but other warnings can apply to popular vacation destinations. Recent posts have warned about the risk of cholera in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Another travel advisory warned about political tensions in Thailand.

The Government of Canada recommends checking its advisory page when first planning a trip and shortly before leaving. “If the region or the country you will be visiting becomes subject to a travel advisory, it may affect your travel health insurance or your trip cancellation insurance,” the website says.

3. Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions?

An insurance policy's fine print will tend to detail the pre-existing medical conditions that will not be covered.

Every insurer will define a “pre-existing” condition in a different way. For example, a recent stress test or a new prescription for blood pressure medication may both be seen as signs of a pre-existing heart problem. Coverage may even be denied to those who are still waiting for the test results.

4. Do you plan any dangerous activities?

High-risk activities like heli skiing or base jumping are excluded from traditional travel insurance for obvious reasons - and they require special coverage - but some group plans also refuse to cover popular vacation activities like parasailing, surfing or bungee jumping.

Many individual travel insurance plans even include a “drunk clause” and will deny a claim if someone is legally impaired when they are injured. In 2006, for example, an impaired Nova Scotia man was denied an insurance claim after he fell from a hotel balcony in Mexico. The final bill for his treatment and a flight home was $50,000.

5. Do you understand which medical services are covered?

Most travel insurance plans will limit their coverage to the fees around a medical emergency, such as the cost of doctors, lab tests and hospital stays. And some insurers expect to be involved in the choice of healthcare facilities or any related travel arrangements.

Remember that restrictions can also change over time as insurers look for ways to control costs and ensure plans remain sustainable.

6. Did you pack insurance information in your suitcase?

Every organized traveller will follow a careful checklist when they pack. Bathing suit? Check. Toothbrush? Check.

It would also be a good idea to pack information relating to travel insurance, including proof of coverage, contact information for your family doctor, and any travel hotlines that your insurer provides for emergencies.

It is the type of planning that could help to ensure a cheque will be paid when you need it most.

Is there a topic that you would like me to address in a future edition of the Buzz? A burning question about benefits plans that has always been hanging over your head? Let me know. Drop a quick email to billz@callerygroup.com.

Top Tips:

  • Review your group plan’s travel insurance to see if the policy restricts the duration of your trip, destination, or specific activities.
  • Ask whether pre-existing medical conditions are covered, especially if you have recently visited a doctor.
  • Carry information including proof of coverage, the insurer’s emergency phone line, and contact information for your family doctor.

Copyright Notice

All rights reserved. All of the content herein is the sole property of the Callery Group, and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system - in whole or in part - without the written permission of the Callery Group. Links to the originating article at www.callerygroup.com are permitted.

The Buzz Bits
Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

Travel advisories: Government of Canada

New year is an excuse to update beneficiaries: Small Biz Advisor

Worth Repeating
Links featured in past blogs that are worth revisiting

Travel Insurance: 10 things you need to know: moneyville

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.

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