As Governments Withdraw, Private Travel Insurers Tune Up

Ontario’s proposal to stop paying travellers’ out-of-country medical emergency costs is expected to raise private travel insurance premiums by between 7 and 13 per cent, according to industry sources, even though the provincial share of fees paid to foreign health care providers are minimal at best—perhaps 5 per cent.

And though such increases will be felt most acutely by snowbirds who spend several months out of Canada each year—primarily in the US—the effects should also awaken cross-border shoppers and weekenders to the reality that accidents and medical emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time, making them just as vulnerable as snowbirds.  

According to figures just released by the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC), 71.9 per cent of Ontarians surveyed claim they had some form of travel insurance on their last outbound trip. For Canadians as a whole, that was 76 per cent. And of those who were uninsured, 49.6 per cent didn’t think insurance was necessary. Alarmingly, 57.3 per cent of 55-plus-year-olds who travelled without insurance on their last trip didn’t think it was necessary, exploding the myth that it is only the young who ignore the risk of travelling abroad without private coverage.

What this suggests is that if Ontario goes through with its plan, which is not in compliance with the Canada Health Act (see our last post), other provinces are likely to follow.

It also casts concerns about whether the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care will continue to partner with travel insurers in facilitating hospital bed placements for injured or seriously ill travellers requiring repatriation to hospitals in their communities. This is a huge problem which continues to force travel insurers to maintain their clients in super-expensive foreign hospitals instead of having them cared for close to home.

For travel insurers, the market grows—and so do the responsibilities

Managing travel insurance benefits in locations around the world is time-consuming and costly: it can involve monitoring quality of care; paying foreign providers; conferring with foreign doctors and nursing staff in their own languages; transmitting medical records instantly to medical professionals at the site of an accident or emergency; locating and repatriating injured or ill customers from distant and sometimes remote locations; keeping anxious families abreast of their loved ones’ condition, and more. The travel insurance industry has developed a remarkable sophistication since the early 1990s when provincial governments cut their reimbursements and thrust the weight of responsibility for the care of Canada’s travellers on their own shoulders.

And since that time, the costs of medical care have also increased exponentially. Canada and Western Europe have some of the highest health care costs—between 11 and 12 per cent of their respective GDPs, and in the US it’s over 17 per cent. Consequently, travel insurers must maintain well-honed relationships with emergency assistance specialists in virtually every country in the world, compete for access to the best international provider networks, and be backed up by case management services, health care cost analysis and billing specialists, ground transport providers, medical escort and repatriation services and occasionally local funeral directors, and deal with them across multiple time zones and in many different languages.

According to the CBoC, Canadians made more than 33 million trips out of the country in 2018, three-quarters of them for leisure. That’s the highest number since 2014 and prospects are for a continuation of that trend. With the prospect of higher travel insurance premiums on the way, we can only suggest you look for any early bird specials you can get, and make sure you know what you are buying—the exclusions as well as the benefits. This is a serious purchase—even for the day-trippers.

Travel freely, travel blissfully. We cover Canadian Travellers with travel medical insurance and non-medical travel insurance such as trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage worldwide. We’ve got it all taken care of. For more information, visit, call us at 1-800-360-3234 or email us at

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