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Canadians travelling without health insurance

A recent study found that only half of Canadians who travel purchase medical insurance before heading off on a vacation. .
A recent study found that only half of Canadians who travel purchase medical insurance before heading off on a vacation. . Adam Berry/Getty Images

(Special) – Summer is a very popular time for Canadians to travel to other parts of the country, the United States or abroad.

A recent study on summer travel by BMO Insurance found that 83 per cent of Canadians plan to take a vacation this summer and spend an average of $3,073 on travel, the most popular destinations being the United States, Europe and Central and South America.

However, only half of Canadians who travel purchase medical insurance before heading off, potentially leaving themselves and their families financially vulnerable to high costs should they get sick or have an accident while travelling.

“While it’s great news that so many Canadians will be taking advantage of the great weather to hit the road and get some rest and relaxation this summer, it’s a concern that so few will be protecting themselves against the unexpected by purchasing travel medical insurance,” says Julie Barker-Merz, vice president and chief operating officer of BMO Insurance.

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Getting sick while out of the country can be very expensive. The cost of a broken leg in the United States, for example, can cost up to $20,000, while an air ambulance from Florida to Ontario can run up to $15,000. Even within the country Canadians may not be covered for all required medical care when travelling to another province.

According to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, group health insurance through your employer, union or professional association may cover out-of-country hospital and/or medical expenses, but you should check to see what is covered and what is excluded.

For example, will your policy cover you for the entire length of your absence from Canada or your home province? If you extend your stay, can your policy be extended?

What types of restrictions does your policy have? Does it deny benefits if your emergency arises because of a pre-existing condition and are there exclusion that pertain to specific activities or events such as sports, war, suicide or substance abuse? Does your policy pay for an emergency return home and if you’re travelling with others? Does each person need a separate policy or does one cover all? Are there certain countries or locations not covered and does your policy provide for trip cancellation, baggage loss and other damages?

Some policies will not provide coverage for conditions that don’t exist before your departure. This includes conditions for which you have seen a doctor or received other treatment recently. Other policies may provide coverage for these conditions but on a limited basis.

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If you currently have a condition that is stable or under control by medication and you are medically fit to travel, check your policy to see if you would be covered if there were an emergency – for example if you are on anti-hypertension medication and suffer a heart attack, if you have a mental disorder or if you are in the latter stages of pregnancy.

When completing the health portion of your travel insurance application form make sure you list all medication that you take, if you are not completely sure contact your doctor of life and health insurance provider or advice on how to proceed.

BMO suggests you 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.

As well, be sure you understand who pays. Some insurers pay the doctor directly while others require the traveller to pay up front and then get reimbursed later.

And read the fine print. Make sure your policy covers you for all trip activities and is valid for the duration of your trip.

“Unless you and your family are covered through other means, it’s critical to make sure you have travel medical insurance because emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere,” says Barker- Merz. “Making sure you have travel medical insurance should be a high priority item on any traveller’s vacation to-do list.”

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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 2013 Talbot Boggs

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