Q: We’ve had friends who’ve been burned by insurance companies. How do you make sure your travel medical insurance is reliable?
— Kara Martin, Truro, Nova Scotia
A: Insurance companies are notorious for finding ways to avoid paying claims. But, most travellers can’t leave without them; provincial governments only cover a portion of foreign medical bills, credit card companies often restrict their coverage to a short period of time, and employer plans can be very limited. So, unless you have a pool of money standing by, you need to buy travel insurance.
As usual, you can avoid being burned by doing your homework, and never taking anything for granted. Make sure you check:
• If there is a deductible or co-payment clause.
• If your plan has limited or unlimited coverage.
• If coverage is restricted to hospitals, or if you can also go to doctors’ offices and outpatient clinics.
• If your insurance company pays up front, or reimburses upon return.
• If your company has 24-hour phone assistance.
• If you need to call before receiving treatment, and what the penalties are for not doing so.
• If your plan includes emergency evacuation.
• If your plan covers medical emergencies due to a pre-existing condition.
• If Foreign Affairs Canada has issued a Travel Advisory about your destination, in which case you may not be ineligible for coverage.
You should also keep in mind:
• No travel insurance plan pays for non-emergencies.
• Most basic plans don’t cover trip cancellation, loss of luggage, or damage to a rental car; you usually have to pay more for these.
• You are only covered if you become ill before or on your trip. You aren’t covered if you cancel due to fear of an illness (even the H1N1 pandemic), unless you get a “for any reason” policy.
• You aren’t covered if your emergency is due to a dangerous sport, substance abuse, war or an act of terrorism.
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to start reading the fine print. Here are some reputable companies to check out:
• Blue Cross
• Canadian Automobile Association
• HBC Financial Services
• Manulife Financial
• Royal Bank of Canada
• TD Canada Trust
• Travel Guard
• Travel Insurance Coordinators
• Travel Underwriters