Make sure your travel health insurance properly protects you

Many people who buy extra insurance before they travel discover medical expenses incurred on their trip are not covered. Travellers need to be well informed about their coverage so the fine print doesn’t trip them up.

Be sure to brief yourself with the details of your insurance coverage before you leave home.
Be sure to brief yourself with the details of your insurance coverage before you leave home.

By Tania Moffat

While most travellers purchase travel health insurance before going on a trip, a recent study done by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada reveals that 35 per cent of Canadian travellers still do not buy any type of travel insurance.

Those people who do purchase insurance need to make certain that what they purchase meets their needs, and that they understand the limitations of the policy and their responsibilities.

Concentrate on coverage
“One of the biggest mistakes travellers make when buying insurance is focusing on price,” says THIA of Canada vice president Alex Bittner. “Although we’re all looking for great value when shopping for travel insurance, we need to consider coverage before price. Once a traveller has satisfied their needs, price becomes secondary to responsible coverage.”

Manitoba Health does cover some insured health services for Canadians travelling within this country’s borders but still recommends travellers purchase additional insurance to ensure full coverage.

“Generally, the Canada Health Act allows for portability of our health care inter-provincially; however, there are some gaping holes,” cautions Bittner. “For example, local land ambulance and air ambulance services are not fully covered in the event of an emergency outside our province. An air ambulance from Manitoba to Newfoundland would cost around $30,000 – not covered by our government health insurance.”

Services such as emergency dental, chiropractic, podiatrist or physiotherapy are not covered for emergencies even within Canada; neither are trip interruptions or cancellations. “Inter-provincial travel insurance is inexpensive and should not be ignored,” states Bittner.

Study the fine print
For people travelling outside Canada, Manitoba Health offers only minimal coverage. The amount, according to THIA, is about nine per cent of the expenses that you would incur if you require medical attention. With the increasing costs of medical procedures worldwide, proof of insurance ensures the traveller receives the treatment needed; in some cases, it is even required for entry into a country.

While most Canadians do purchase additional insurance before travelling abroad, many people make the surprise discovery that they are not covered for the medical expenses incurred on their trip. Travellers purchasing health insurance need to be well informed about their coverage in order not to get tripped up by the fine print.

First and foremost, Canadians need to know the details of their policy. Travellers blindly relying on the free travel health coverage offered by their credit card company, for example, may be in for a surprise. Most “free” coverage does not include anyone 65 years of age or older. Credit card plans offer only limited benefits at no cost, and the traveller may be required to purchase their travel accommodations with their card in order to receive any reimbursement.

It is incumbent upon travellers not only to ensure that they have purchased enough insurance for their needs, but that they have filled out the information accurately and honestly, and understand the limitations of their policy.

Many definitions
When you, the traveller, determine your travel health care needs, consider the duration and quantity of trips you have planned for the year, your health status and whether you will need health, life, disability, driving, vehicle or trip cancellation insurance.

Clauses regarding pre-existing medical conditions can be some of the trickiest to understand, and every insurer is different. Definitions for terms (stable, controlled, treatment, pre-existing condition) vary, as will time guidelines that determine the status of the condition. One insurer may require a condition to be stable and controlled (no change in status or medication) for a period of six months before offering coverage; another insurer may require a period of two years without a change.

A traveller with a pre-existing medical condition needs to look closely at the limitations and restrictions offered in various plans: what benefits are offered and what a traveller needs to do to be eligible for them. It is imperative that the traveller know about and report all their health conditions. Lying in order to reduce premiums is never a good idea.

Prescription changes, referrals to specialists, tests or treatment updates may influence the status of an individual’s condition as recognized by their policy. Travellers should consult their doctor and insurance company to understand how their particular pre-existing medical issues relate to any policy they are considering purchasing.

For example, if you have borderline diabetes or high blood pressure that does not require treatment at this time but you fail to mention it and then require medical assistance for it or a related condition on your trip, you may be denied coverage when you place your claim. If you are unsure, clarify with your doctor or ask if the doctor can assist you in filling out the form. Do not guess or think you know the answer when filling out your claim – verify, verify, verify!

Check with the company
Most companies have 1-800 numbers with staff to assist you with your questions; when in doubt, use them. If possible, ask for a letter from your insurance provider confirming that your pre-existing condition will be covered.

If you pre-purchased your insurance and experience a change in your health or medication prior to departure (e.g. referral to a specialist, awaiting test results), notify your carrier immediately and ensure with your broker that this will not result in any changes to your coverage.

THIA cautions that travel insurance is for unforeseen medical expenses; unstable pre-existing conditions are often not covered. There are a plethora of insurance products on the market offering you many choices. With a qualified, good broker and careful reading you should be able to find some coverage even with pre-existing medical conditions.

On average, 500,000 claims are made per year in Canada, and only 15,000 (three per cent) are denied. Insurance is a high risk business; companies can be out big dollars when claims are made. You can be sure that they will strictly uphold their policies and if errors are found, you may be the one out of pocket.

For more information on travel health insurance visit:

×          Manitoba Health,
×          Government of Canada,
×          Travel Health Insurance Association,
×          The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Under consumer information.

Tania Moffat’s writing has appeared in several Winnipeg magazines.

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