Updated: Tue, 18 Dec 2012 07:00:09 GMT | By Talbot Boggs, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com

Canadians travelling without insurance

(Special) - Many Canadians are planning their winter travel vacations without travel insurance, possibly leaving them and their loved ones exposed to heavy medical and other expenses should anything happen while they are away.


(Special) - Many Canadians are planning their winter travel vacations without travel insurance, possibly leaving them and their loved ones exposed to heavy medical and other expenses should anything happen while they are away.

The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIAC) reports that 52 per cent of Canadians intend to take a vacation outside the country but many may not be aware that their provincial health insurance pays only a small portion of out-of-country medical expenses.

Another study by BMO Insurance has found that only 41 per cent of Canadians who travel purchase travel insurance on a regular basis in spite of the fact that four in ten say that at some point in their lives either they or a companion have required medical attention while travelling.

Getting sick or having an accident while out of the country can be very expensive. A broken leg in the United States, for example, is likely to set you back up to $20,000 while an air ambulance trip from Florida to Ontario can run up to $15,000.

A number of years ago my father suffered a heart attack in Florida and the bill for treatment and three days in hospital was more than $50,000 U.S.

"It's necessary to have private travel insurance to be fully protected against unexpected medical emergencies encountered during foreign or inter-provincial travel," says Martha Turnbull, past president of the THIA.

"While Canadians can sometimes be covered under the terms of their credit card or workplace healthcare plans, the need to be certain that the correct insurance is in place given the high cost of medical services that can be incurred while away from home," adds Julie Barker-Merz, vice-president and chief operating officer of BMO Insurance.

Part of the problem is that many Canadians don't understand who is responsible for paying for medical costs.

Only half in the BMO survey correctly identified that if you travel outside of Canada without medical insurance you are responsible for covering the majority of medical expenses. Twenty-one per cent believe their provincial or the federal government pays the bill and 11 per cent believe their workplace healthcare plans pick up the tab when someone get sick or has an accident while away.

Basic travel insurance will cover things like lost luggage, trip cancellation and missed connections but may not include seeing a doctor, so travellers should look for a travel medical policy that includes medical and dental coverage, air ambulance, private duty nurse expenses and airfare and lodging for a family member to fly out to be by your side.

It's important to know your own health.

"Know what conditions your doctor is treating you for, what medications you have been prescribed and when changes have been made to your medications," says Turnbull. "Since every insurer has different approaches to covering pre-existing conditions, it's critical to read and understand the benefits, exclusions, limitations, eligibility and especially pre-existing conditions."

It's important to understand key definitions such as stable, uncontrolled, treatment and emergency. The definition of pre-existing conditions varies among insurers.

Some policies may cover pre-existing conditions that are considered stale and controlled for a specific period (such as 90 days) prior to departure or booking date (which applies to trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage). Some may not cover any pre-existing or related conditions. So understand how all this applies to you.

THIA recommends booking your insurance as soon as you put a deposit on the trip and try to purchase your travel using a major credit card. If the travel supplier goes out of business or suspends operations you may be able to recover some of your costs through the credit card company. Travel insurers do not cover financial solvency of airlines, cruise lines or other travel suppliers.

And do not minimize your health status to get lower premiums. Inaccurate or incomplete information could invalidate your claim and leave you stuck with the bill.

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"Just like packing sunscreen and cancelling the newspaper before leaving home, making sure you have travel insurance should be a high-priority item on any travellers' to-do list," says Barker-Merz.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2012 Talbot Boggs

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