Ottawa

Price hikes feared as province scraps OHIP out-of-country coverage

Ontario residents who travel abroad no longer have out-of-country coverage through OHIP, and that has some worrying private insurers will raise the cost of travel insurance.

Changes to OHIP came into effect New Year's Day

As of Jan. 1, 2020, Ontario has scrapped all out-of-country insurance for medical emergencies, with an exception for dialysis services. (Marsha Halper/The Miami Herald/Associated Press)

Ontario residents have lost the majority of their out-of-country coverage through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), leading some in the travel industry to worry private insurers will raise the cost of their travel plans.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, Ontario has scrapped all out-of-country insurance for medical emergencies, with an exception for dialysis services.

Last summer, Ontario's health minister said the old system was an "irresponsible use of taxpayer money."

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the funding did "little in the way of providing meaningful travel coverage," since it only covered a daily maximum of $400 for inpatient treatments, with an additional $50 per day for emergency outpatient services.

The Ministry of Health also said at the time the program spent one third of its funding on administration costs.

Court challenge ahead

The decision to end out-of-country coverage is now being challenged in court, with the Canadian Snowbird Association filing an application for judicial review, arguing the province is violating both the Canada Health Act and Ontario Health Insurance Act.

"It will also increase travel medical insurance premiums across the province. So [for some] people, especially seniors that need it most, this is obviously going to have an impact of hitting them in the pocketbook," said the association's Evan Rachkovsky.

"We estimate that premiums are going to increase by about seven-and-a-half per cent."

Evan Rachkovsky is with the Canadian Snowbird Association. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Shop around, says CAA

The changes to out-of-country coverage may actually help raise awareness about the importance of private health insurance, according to Caitlin Charter, manager of the CAA's Travel Store in Orléans.

"I've had a lot of people who thought they were fully covered once they left the country, that their OHIP covers them," Charter said.

"[But] in fact ... it's so minimal."

Charter said even a brief visit to a doctor in the U.S. can cost double the former OHIP daily maximum.

"I think this is a benefit because it will ensure that people are properly protected," Charter said. "And that's the most important thing ... that when people are making travel plans, either for a long international trip or quick trip across the border, that they are properly protected."

Charter said Ontario residents planning to travel abroad should check to see if they have existing travel insurance whether through private insurance plans or their credit cards.

If not, they should "shop around" to find the best plans to fit their medical status, she said.

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