Think you don’t need insurance when travelling in Canada? Think again

An Air Canada flight makes its final approach as it lands at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2004. Even with travel insurance, Canadians are likely not covered for being bumped off an overbooked flight.
An Air Canada flight makes its final approach as it lands at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2004. Even with travel insurance, Canadians are likely not covered for being bumped off an overbooked flight. Adrian Wyld/CP

Sixty per cent of Canadians are planning to spend their vacation in Canada this summer — but precious few of them are planning to buy travel insurance, according to a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid for RBC Insurance.

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Over half of those planning to leave their home province this year said they probably won’t purchase coverage for their trip, according to the poll, which is accurate to within ± 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Within that group, 46 per cent said they didn’t need insurance because they are already covered by their provincial health care.

But are Canadians really covered during out-of-province travel?

Mostly, the answer is yes, according to Stacey Hughes-Brooks, head of travel at RBC Insurance. But there are gaps.

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Expenses your provincial plan might not cover 

While your government health care coverage will follow you throughout Canada for most major medical expenses, your coverage might stop at the provincial border for a few pricey services, said Hughes-Brooks.

Some provincial plans don’t cover ground and air ambulance transportation, X-rays, emergency dental care and prescription drugs when you’re out of your province of residence, she noted. Some of those expenses can add up to thousands of dollars, she added.

Canadians under 60 can generally purchase supplemental health insurance for between $30 and $50 for a two-week trip, said Robin Ingle, president of Canadian insurance group Ingle International. That will buy you between $5 million and $10 million in coverage, he added.

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Watch the fine print in your group benefits and credit card insurance plans

If you have health coverage through your employer or credit card, you might be OK — but you should check the fine print on those plans prior to travel to make sure that’s really the case, said Ingle.

Over the past five years, some companies have been trimming back on their out-of-province coverage in an effort to rein in expenses, he noted.

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“Some very large companies are facing larger retired populations, and employee benefits costs are rising,” Ingle told Global News.

Canadians can call human resources or their employer’s insurance provider before a trip to ensure they have all the coverage they’re going to need, he added.

The same scrutiny should be applied to the insurance policies that come with credit cards, Ingle said.

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When it comes to credit cards, the first thing you should check is that they actually cover out-of-province domestic trips, as some may only apply to international travel.

The American Express Air Miles Credit Card is one that has your back even for Canada-bound trips, according to flights comparison website

But beware of the asterisks that come with supplemental travel insurance, as well

You should read carefully when buying regular travel insurance, as there may be gaps there, too.

Pre-existing conditions, for example, are usually only covered when deemed “stable,” according to Hughes-Brooks.

If you’ve just been dismissed from the hospital, plain-vanilla travel insurance might not be for you.

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That applies to women in the last nine weeks of pregnancy, too, said Hughes-Brooks.

The story of Amy Savill, an Alberta woman who had to be airlifted to the hospital when she went into labour prematurely while vacationing in Ontario grabbed headlines a few years ago when she was told the flight could cost her up to $30,000.

But because Savill was travelling out of province in her third trimester she might not have been covered even if she had bought insurance, Ingle told Global News.

Still, insurance is available for many pre-existing conditions, he added. Canadians with special needs should shop around for policies that fit their situation, Ingle advised.

READ MORE: 5 travel tips for parents flying with young kids

And travel insurance won’t protect you from airline overbooking

Travel insurance, of course, it’s not just about health coverage. It can also spare you hefty out-of-pocket costs if you’re forced to cancel your trip, when something goes awry on your way to and back from your vacation, and if your property is damaged or stolen during the trip, among other things.

WATCH: Why trip cancellation insurance might not cover you

Click to play video: 'Travel cancellation insurance woes'
Travel cancellation insurance woes

Still, one thing travel insurance won’t cover is airline overbooking. If you’re bumped off an overcrowded flight, a travel insurance plan will be of little help, said Ingle.

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That’s because the decision to boot you out is the airline’s, whereas travel insurance generally covers travel disruptions that are outside the control of the transport provider, Ingle explained.

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Some insurers, including Ingle’s own company, have been talking about ways to offer insurance for overbooking. For now, however, there’s nothing that will cover it, other than some airline policies, mostly in Europe, said Ingle.

And if you think Ottawa’s proposed bill of rights for air passengers will put an end to the overbooking, think again.

READ MORE: Proposed airline passenger rights won’t mean an end to overbooking: experts

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