Cuba visitors face new medical insurance rule

Canadians travelling to Cuba will be required to present proof of health insurance to enter the country as of Saturday.

Note: This is a story from April 2010. 

Canadians travelling to Cuba will be required to present proof of health insurance to enter the country as of Saturday.

To meet the requirement, travellers should have travel insurance that covers medical expenses, the Cuban government said.

"Upon arrival, travellers may be required to present an insurance policy, insurance certificate, or medical assistance card valid for the period of their stay in Cuba," Foreign Affairs says in its travel report for the country.

"Those who do not have proof of insurance coverage may be required to obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company when they arrive."

Provincial health insurance plans do not provide direct coverage for out-of-country emergency medical services.

Supplemental health insurance urged

Provincial plans may cover only part of the costs and will not pay the bill up front as Cuba requires, Foreign Affairs noted.

"It is therefore recommended that travellers purchase supplemental health insurance," the department said.

Canadians visitors carrying only provincial government health insurance cards will have to pay Cuban hospitals, doctors or other providers in full at the time of treatment and then seek reimbursement from their provincial plans, which normally cover only a fraction of the charges.

Some private insurers also require the traveller to pay costs up front and be reimbursed later, Foreign Affairs noted.

All health insurance policies will be recognized except those issued by U.S. insurance companies, which cannot provide coverage in Cuba.

Provincial health plans also strongly urge residents to purchase supplemental travel insurance for any trips they make out of the country. Provincial plans also do not cover the cost of ground ambulance in Cuba or repatriation back to Canada on commercial airlines or air ambulance.

"People do need to have supplementary insurance, either purchasing coverage through their employer or employer benefit plan or on a credit card," Martha Turnbull, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), said in an interview.

The association also encouraged Canadians to get a letter from their insurance company or employer stating they do have coverage.

Turnbull suggested Canadians also consider insuring their travel arrangements since getting home early from Cuba or cancelling a trip can be expensive.