The holiday travel season is upon us, but along with booking that flight or preparing for that road trip, travellers are urged to have the right health insurance to avoid being on the hook for a huge medical bill.
CBC News spoke to travel insurance experts following a CBC Go Public report this week that a retired B.C. woman who was treated in a California hospital is now facing a $50,000 US hospital bill, despite buying health insurance.
Do you have faith in travel insurance? Have your say.
The insurance company is refusing to cover the medical costs because of how one of the questions was answered on the initial policy application form.
To avoid such travel woes, following are some tips from experts:
1. Read your policy thoroughly and review the coverage: This may seem obvious, but it's important to realize travel heath coverage is not a full medical plan.
"In many ways it's more of an emergency plan, so people should review the policy because there are eligibility requirements for the policy. There are limitations and restrictions," said David Hartman, president of the Travel Health Insurance Industry Association of Canada.
Tim Bzowey, vice-president, travel, RBC Insurance, said people should also review the coverage they already have, whether it is through work or a credit card, and know the possible limitations.
"It's a question of, 'Do you know what the limits are?' It's for a specific period of time — how many days is it good for? Are there limits, are there age restrictions?"
Also, check to see if the insurance provider pays for the expenses upfront, or if you will be required to pay the hospital and be reimbursed later.
2. Be honest: One of the main reasons claims are denied is that people haven't filled out their medical questionnaire accurately. People must disclose all medical conditions and seek a health-care professional's assistance if there is confusion regarding the questions.
As well, travel policies require a "stability period," meaning if your health has changed in any way, including a change in medication, since the time you purchased your policy, you must inform your insurer or there could be coverage problems.
3. Free health care across Canada for Canadians? Not quite: While many medical services are covered across Canada, some emergency expenses are not.
"Ground ambulance may be a few hundred dollars, but if you needed to be air-ambulanced back from Vancouver [to Toronto] now that's a $30,000 bill for an air ambulance with a medical team," Bzowey said.
While Bzowey said accidents requiring that type of medical care are infrequent, they do happen.
4. Coverage for U.S. trips? Consider it.
Stepping across the border into the U.S., even for the day, can be costly in the event of a medical emergency. But most people may not consider getting coverage for a quick jaunt to our neighbour to the south. According to a recent RBC survey of people aged 18-34, 44 per cent said they rarely or never purchased health insurance for travel to the U.S.
"We’ve had circumstances when people have gone on a shopping trip to Buffalo for the day, they've had a very serious medical event, and have ended up hospitalized and unable to return home," Bzowey said. "The human tragedy aside, the financial implications of that are horrendous."
Hartman added that while most provinces pay from $75 to $400 a day for a hospital room stay, it's relatively small reimbursement compared to the total cost.
5. "Adventurous" travellers may not be covered: Hartman warns that some policies may have clauses that do not cover medical mishaps caused by "high-risk activity." This can include accidents caused by alcohol, or certain sports like scuba diving or parasailing. Hartman said you can upgrade your coverage with some policies to cover adventure travel, but there will be an added premium.