Snowbirds score win vs. Ontario in out-of-country coverage fight

by Leo Almazora28 Sep 2020

The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), a non-profit organization representing the interests of Canadian travellers from across the world, has announced a significant victory in a legal challenge against Ontario.

On September 23, the Ontario Divisional Court issued a unanimous ruling that strikes down a portion of Ontario Regulation 259 that eliminated the Out-of-Country Travellers Program (OOCTP), an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) program that covers emergency coverage outside the country.

Under the program, travelling Ontarians could claim reimbursements of $200 to $400 per day for emergency inpatient services and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient services.

In May 2019, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the provincial government’s plan to eliminate basic out-of-country travel insurance, following a six-day consultation. The move was part of a broader effort to address the province’s $11.7-billion deficit; it said the OOCTP program had cost it $2.8 million to administer with approximately $9 million in claim payments made every year.

The plan to eliminate OOCTP pushed through on January 1, 2020, which made Ontario the sole jurisdiction in Canada to eliminate all medical coverage for its residents travelling abroad. The following day, the CSA filed its legal challenge against the move.

In its decision, the Ontario Divisional Court found that under the Ontario Health Insurance Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council had no legal authority to put in place regulations that would revoke the OOCTP.

The Ontario Health Insurance Act prohibits the inclusion in regulations of any provision that violates any of the five pillars of the Canada Health Act. Those include the principle of portability, which requires provincial and territorial health insurance plans to cover insured health services for residents who are temporarily outside their home province or territory, as well as outside Canada.

“The Canadian Snowbird Association is pleased with the Court's decision,” CSA President Karen Huestis said in a statement. “The ruling affirms the right of Ontario residents to out-of-country emergency insurance coverage, as required by the Canada Health Act (CHA).”

The CSA said that while it maintains its stance advising Canadian travellers to obtain adequate travel medical insurance before going on any trip abroad, the re-establishment of the OOCTP would result in lower insurance premiums, making travel more affordable for seniors in the province.