Young Canadians confined in foreign hospitals with no travel insurance to cover their medical bills or the costs of repatriating them by air ambulance made headlines across Canada recently even though coverage for accidental or emergency illness out of the country has never been more accessible.
In August, 2012, former Toronto cheerleader Anna Leibenko, then 24, slipped on a catamaran sailing in the Adriatic and had to be rushed to a neurosurgery hospital in Croatia for intensive emergency treatment. She had no travel insurance. Consequently, friends in Canada set up a drive to raise funds to pay the hospital bill and airlift her back to Canada.
In November, 11-year old Jaylynn Graham, vacationing in Jamaica with her father, suffered what was reported in the London Free Press as a stroke requiring brain surgery. Because she had no travel insurance, friends and local London area businesses set up a donors’ fund to help pay medical and hospital bills related to her care.
In December, The Hamilton Spectator reported that Robert Sitter, a long-time Buffalo Bills football fan from Hamilton was hit by a taxi while exiting the stadium in Buffalo. He sustained a brain injury that left him in a coma, unable to be repatriated to Canada for several weeks. A public donors’ fund was set up to help Sitter’s family deal with what would likely be at least a six-figure hospital bill.
“What makes these stories even more tragic for the families involved,” says John Thain, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), “is that the burden of medical and transportation costs that accompanies accidents and illnesses abroad is so avoidable, and in the case of young, otherwise, healthy people, travel insurance is so inexpensive and accessible.”
Government health insurance plans cover only a very small fraction of out-of-country health care costs, and all provincial health ministries and the Government of Canada travel websites strongly urge all Canadians leaving the country – for even one day or less – to buy private travel insurance to cover health emergencies.
Virtually all travel insurance plans in Canada offer generous benefits,some up to $5 million per policy, and they include air or ground ambulance repatriation when medically necessary, direct payments to foreign hospitals and doctors, and coverage of virtually all hospital and medical costs for applicants who meet the eligibility and health requirements.
Studies have shown that most experienced and mature travellers, and especially snowbirds, won’t leave home without travel insurance. In fact, some studies show about 80 percent of snowbirds buy insurance annually. But a study done by Ipsos Reid also showed that among 18-to-34 year old Canadians, 44 percent report that they never or rarely bought insurance on any trip they took to the U.S. within the previous two years.
“Travel insurance for Canadians leaving the country for even a short trip to a ballgame, or to go shopping, or visit relatives, is not a luxury item, it’s a necessity,” says Thain. “One slip on the ice, or fall on a boat, or accident while crossing the street can generate medical bills that could potentially wipe out a family’s savings. It doesn’t have to be that way,” he emphasizes.
“Travel medical insurance is readily available from most travel agents, brokers, banks, motor leagues, and companies specializing in travel insurance. Thanks to the internet, finding them is easier than ever,” says Thain. “All it takes is recognition that even the young are not invincible. And hospitals and doctors don’t offer cut-rates for the young.”
TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Jan. 3, 2013)