Buying the right kind of travel insurance for your trip can be the trickiest part of planning a holiday. Do you need insurance if travelling outside of Canada? In case of an emergency, what are you covered for? Is your work insurance enough to cover any expenses?
The subject of travel insurance has been back in the news this week in a big way, all because of one Saskatchewan family’s million dollar U.S. hospital bill. Jennifer Huculak-Kimmel travelled to Hawaii while 24 weeks pregnant. She thought she had the proper travel insurance before leaving Canada, but, when she delivered her baby premature and spent weeks in a U.S. hospital, Huculak-Kimmel was shocked to learn her insurance company, Blue Cross, wouldn’t be helping her out with the $950,000 bill. While the reasons behind Blue Cross denying the claim have not been revealed, the company did say “there are more facts related to this story that prevent us from reversing our decision” in a statement.
It’s no wonder a 2013 BMO Insurance study found that just half of Canadians purchase travel insurance before going on vacation. Whether we’re shying away from insurance out of confusion over the coverage we think we already have or just don’t think insurance is all that important, the world of travel insurance can be very tricky to navigate.
So what should you look for and know before buying travel insurance? We turned to experts from Travelzoo Canada and the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada for the top five tips.
1. Know your medical history: The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada recommends Canadians know their medical history and consult with a health care provider before they fill out any insurance forms. They said the top reasons for denied claims are medical non-disclosure and misrepresentation about pre-existing conditions that are not stable.
“Responding accurately to medical forms is the best way to have a carefree holiday and ensure that unexpected medical expenses will be covered by insurance,” said THIA President Alex Bittner in a statement. “If there is a medical questionnaire, it needs to be taken seriously.”
It’s important to note you can still get insurance with a medical condition. Travelzoo Canada‘s travel insurance expert Michael Duchesne joined Sun Media for a chat about travel insurance last summer. He said travellers with pre-existing medical conditions can still get travel insurance and should look for policies that cater toward their conditions.
“I would encourage you to search for specialist travel insurers,” Duchesne said. “Select insurance companies cover people if their medical conditions are under control and stable for certain period. As a caveat, be advised that a minor change in someone’s prescription or medication can mean that the medical condition is not considered ‘stable.’”
2. Medical travel insurance and trip cancellation insurance are not the same thing: “Trip cancellation and travel health insurance are two distinct services,” said Duchesne. “Trip cancellation covers pre-paid and non-refundable expenses if your plans are interrupted or cancelled. The five main types of insurance are generally sold in a combo of sorts. If you only want one, then ask for it and ask whether there are incentives to upgrade to all or just some. A comprehensive package covers trip cancellation and interruption, evacuation, medical and baggage, even flight insurance.”
3. Know what you are already covered for and if it’s enough: Many people have travel insurance through their work insurance plans or credit cards. Before you travel relying on this insurance alone, though, know what it covers and purchase additional coverage if necessary.
“Many people will already have some coverage through employers or credit cards and it’s important to understand existing coverage and ensure you have the necessary supplemental coverage,” said Bittner.
4. Even if you’re travelling within Canada, you may need travel insurance: You may think your provincial health insurance will cover any medical costs across Canada, but that isn’t the case.
“If you plan to travel outside of your home province, it is strongly recommended that you obtain additional private medical insurance and fully understand what your policy covers,” said Duchesne. “This comes into play with things like trip cancellation or interruption insurance, which covers pre-paid non-refundable expenses should your travel plans be interrupted or cancelled.”
5. Ask a lot of questions: How do you know if your medical condition is compliant with your insurance coverage? What level of coverage is right for your trip? Direct your questions to the insurance provider directly, said Duchesne.
“Keep in mind that travel agents recommend that you get travel insurance because they get a percentage when you buy it, and because they could be held liable for losses if insurance options aren’t explained correctly,” said Duchesne. “While they can give you information and provide direction, they are not insurance agents. It’s very important to direct specific questions to the insurance provider.”