Travel health insurance urged for snowbirds

Canadians planning a winter respite in a warm, sunny place are being urged to purchase travel medical insurance before they leave.

Canadians planning a winter respite in a warm, sunny place are being urged to purchase travel medical insurance before they leave.

Canadians are being warned to purchase travel medical insurance before heading to a warm weather vacation spot this winter. ((iStock))
The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada is warning that it's possible other Caribbean countries may follow Cuba's lead and demand proof of insurance before allowing visitors to enter the country.

Cuba initiated the policy in April. On 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.

"For Canadians they mostly need to be concerned about Cuba and have some proof of insurance when they enter Cuba. They could be asked for it," said THIA president David Hartman. "However, anecdotally we understand the Cuban government is not pressing the matter significantly when Canadians enter the country."

Even if supplemental health insurance isn't required, Hartman says it's a good idea to be covered while vacationing.

Minor injury and illness carry big price tag

An analysis by Ontario Blue Cross demonstrates just how expensive illness can be. It reports a case of a 42-year-old woman who suffered travellers diarrhea while visiting the Dominican Republic. Even after tapping her provincial health plan, the bill came to $9,808.

In another case, a 30-year-old man was in an accident and suffered a compressed vertebrae while holidaying in Mexico. His provincial health plan covered $500. The total bill was $38,883.

"For the sake of a policy that could be anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the length of trip and age, the protection is well advised," Hartman said.

He told CBC News that in some areas an insurance policy, or credit card with a large limit, is what it takes to get treatment.

"Unfortunately they are asking in some cases for deposits in advance, and depending on the situation some insurance companies may deal directly with a hospital, others may require you to make the payment or put down a deposit and then deal directly back with your insurance company."

Hartman says consumers should shop carefully in order to find an insurance plan that covers travellers' specific medical needs and financial situation.

He points out that no travel insurance plan covers everything, and pre-existing conditions can be tricky.

"If you have health conditions you should speak to your doctor, but you may need to speak to a seasoned advisor that understands travel insurance products."

THIA advises travellers not to leave purchasing insurance until the last minute.