Michelle Hara No Comments

Whether you are out of the country for a few days or a few weeks, securing travel health insurance before you leave should be considered an essential part of the planning process. “Costs for medical care in the United States and many places around the world can be very expensive,” says John Thain, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada. “Travel insurance helps take care of you and your family and can protect your finances.” Thain recommends buying your health insurance policy from a regulated insurance company, and allowing sufficient time to complete the application process before you leave, particularly if you are required to answer medical questions.

Here, he provides some important tips to snowbirds.

Do not rely solely on your government health insurance plan
While you will have some coverage in the event of an emergency, you need to supplement the small amount the government would provide with a plan that will offer more protection. “Provincial government health plans pay only a very small portion of medical expenses incurred outside of Canada,” says Thain. “Specialists can help you navigate health-care services outside of Canada and guide you in seeking and receiving proper treatment. If something unexpected happens, you will have someone to turn to for help.” 

Know what you’re buying
Thain recommends asking your travel insurance advisor or your insurance company about different plan options: single-trip policy, an annual multi-trip policy or top-up-to-credit card coverage. Be sure to clarify anything you do not understand.

Read through and understand your policy
Rather than take a buy-now-ask-questions-later approach, make sure you understand your policy before you leave. “Insurance companies can have many different approaches to benefits, exclusions, limitations, eligibility and, especially, pre-existing conditions,” says Thain. “It is critical to read and understand your policy before you travel in order to avoid unexpected surprises.” 

Inform your insurer about changes to your health

If something happens between the time you purchase your insurance and the time you leave, you need to inform your provider. This could result in changes to your policy, warns Thain. “Be an informed consumer, know your own health and understand your travel insurance policy.” 

Three misconceptions travellers have about health insurance:

  • Travel insurance is a substitute for your provincial health insurance plan while you are out of the country.
    That is not the case. Travel insurance is for unexpected emergencies only.
  • There is no need for travel health insurance if you are cross-border shopping and will be gone for only a day or two.
    That is not the case. Emergencies can happen at any time to anyone.
  • Once I have my policy, all of my pre-existing conditions will be covered.
    That is not the case. It is essential to review your policy and understand how it defines pre-existing conditions and how terms such as “stable,” “controlled” and “treatment” relate to your personal medical history. Ask your doctor for help in answering medical questions that you are not sure about, including medications, tests you are undergoing or have scheduled and any referral to specialists you have recently had.

by Tara Nolan,

This article appeared in the Toronto Star on December 12, 2012.