Canadian snowbird group calls out provinces’ Canada Health Act breaches

by Leo Almazora13 Mar 2019

The Canadian Snowbird Association has come out with the seventh edition of its Canadian Travellers’ Report Card, which calls attention to the fact that Canadians, in most cases, don’t retain their access to health coverage when they travel abroad.

“Politicians of all stripes need to be reminded that the portability principle of the Canada Health Act, with a few notable exceptions, is not being met,” said Karen Huestis, president of the Canadian Snowbird Association. “The busy winter travel season should remind all Canadians that the principles of universality and portability we expect from our health care system must now be supported by government action.”

According to the report, only the Canadian territories and the province of Prince Edward Island were adhering to the Canada Health Act requirement of providing portable universal health care. That means of the more than 55 million trips abroad taken by Canadians each year, only those coming from the territories and Prince Edward Island are provided with emergency health services at the same rate as if the emergency had taken place at home.

“More populous provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and Québec provide only minimal coverage for their residents who have emergencies outside of Canada,” the report noted.

The report card also graded Canada’s provinces and territories based on four other criteria aside from access to health coverage:

  • Preservation of health coverage – assesses the length of time or number of trips abroad a Canadian can take while still maintaining access to their health benefits;
  • Access to prescription drugs – assesses whether travellers can expect the same period of coverage from their prescription drug plans as from their other health plans;
  • Access to voting rights – assesses whether Canadians are free to travel and still exercise their democratic rights; and
  • Availability of government information – assesses whether governments provide consolidated and easy-to-access information for travellers on their health-plan, drug-plan, and election websites.

Aside from urging action to enforce the Canada Health Act’s Portability Requirement, the CSA report declared its belief that access to prescription drugs for use during travel should be included in the act to protect Canadian travellers. It also called on the government to enact a national pharmacare program that would cover all drugs, not just catastrophic expenses.

“Through the Canada Health Act, the federal government should set clear national standards protecting ongoing access to prescription medications for Canadians who choose to travel outside their home province,” the report said.

“In addition, the federal government should use its role as a funding partner to ensure provinces and territories not only allow Canadians the freedom to travel, but also ensure that while travelling they have the same access to their prescriptions as they do when they are at home.”