What Canadians hitting the road should know about travel insurance

by Leo Almazora05 Aug 2020

With summer officially in full swing and lockdown restrictions easing, many Canadians may be considering going on a much-needed vacation outside their province. That would mean getting personal insurance coverage to supplement what their province covers – and when it comes to travel insurance right now, tourists have to ask a lot of questions.

“The first thing anyone should do is speak with a travel insurance professional before they travel, and before they purchase a policy,” said Anne Marie Thomas, an expert at InsuranceHotline.com. “They want to make sure they’re buying what they need for their particular situation.”

One prime example, according to Thomas, concerns people with pre-existing medical conditions. For such cases, she said insurers may not be willing to provide coverage without a period of stability, which can vary from carrier to carrier. While the average consumer might understand the principle, they might not appreciate how it’s implemented.

“People need to understand what instability means to their insurance company,” she said. “Their travel insurance may exclude particular health situations for something as simple as a change in the dosage of their medication, or the addition of a new drug to their treatment regimen.”

Canadians who choose to scale back on their prescriptions for financial reasons, Thomas added, should be similarly wary. In such an event, travel insurance companies could deny them coverage, as they put themselves in a position of instability by not taking their medication as prescribed.

Even after they experience a denial of coverage due to a period of instability, travellers may be able to re-apply for coverage somewhere down the line. But the length of the cooling-off period can differ from case to case – a stability period of 90 days may be enough for a particular condition, while another would require six months – as well as from carrier to carrier.

“Someone could also be required to get more sign-off from the insurance company’s nurse or doctor,” Thomas said.

People looking for travel insurance coverage will likely find themselves out of luck, as companies stopped offering coverage for travel outside the province or the country after travel restrictions were introduced on March 13. And even after the restrictions get lifted, there’s a question of what exclusions insurers may introduce in light of the pandemic.

“I would imagine some restrictions will potentially be put in place due to COVID-19,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what any insurance company would consider in the event of a second wave, so that’s another thing people should think about.”

Those who choose to travel as interprovincial travel guidelines are loosened could derive some measure of security from their province’s medical coverage. As Thomas explained, those with Ontario coverage will find that it is enforced across all provinces except Quebec, where those from outside the province will have to pay for services up front and get reimbursed when they go home.

Still, the protection offered by public plan coverage may fall short. “From an OHIP perspective, there’s no more out-of-province medical coverage,” Thomas said, noting how that was suspended in January 2020. “There were certain exceptions left in place for cases like if you have to leave the country for work, or if you have to get kidney transplants while you’re on vacation, in which case the province will pay up to a certain amount.”

She also noted that OHIP might not cover some items for those on holiday in Alberta or New Brunswick. Those who need to hire an ambulance service, for example, will have to pay out-of-pocket, and patients who need to be airlifted back to their home province will face a hefty bill that they must pay themselves.

“Those are some little gaps that you hope never happen, but you’d ideally want to make sure you have that protection from travel insurance just in case,” Thomas said. “If you don’t have coverage for something, you may want to reconsider traveling at this time. It could be an expensive gamble.”

Given the current situation, she encouraged everyone with a travel insurance policy to read theirs well so that they understand what it does and does not cover. Anyone at the purchasing stage, meanwhile, will want to ask questions regarding their personal medical situation, as well as shop around to ensure they get good rates on their coverage.

“Once you have that information, you can speak to an insurance professional who can help you navigate what you need for your situation,” Thomas said. “There’s no such thing as too much information when it comes to getting insurance and protecting your health.”