CBC Marketplace recently did an exposé on the Canadian travel insurance industry. To an uninformed viewer, the information presented was pretty scary. Even more alarming was how the industry was portrayed as viciously targeting seniors – pre-existing conditions and all. But before jumping to conclusions, let’s dig a little deeper to analyze the problem, consider who is accountable for what, and find out how consumers can empower themselves to make informed decisions when purchasing travel insurance.
The problem presented
In Tripped Up, we met Canadian snowbirds who purchased travel insurance before heading south to escape the cold. In both cases, one of the travellers needed emergency medical treatment while away from home. Both were later shocked to find that they owed tens of thousands of dollars (or more!) for medical fees they thought were covered – because their claims were denied. What went wrong?
Is it the insurance companies that were to blame? And were the consumers the victims of this industry that is “set up to fail”? Those who saw Tripped Up would likely respond with a resounding “yes!” Keeping in mind that not one insurance expert spoke on behalf of the industry, is it fair to place blame when only one side of the story was presented? And, more importantly, is placing blame the solution?
Placing blame is not the solution
It’s easy to blame insurance companies, but what consumers fail to understand is that purchasing insurance is no different than signing a contract with a new employer or your bank. Whether you’ve promised to show up at work from 9 to 5 every day or make your mortgage payments on time each month, if you are unable to uphold your end of the bargain, you may find yourself without a job or a home.
The same goes for travel insurance. If the information you provide on your medical questionnaire is false, insurance companies will not reimburse you for medical expenses incurred. And unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the erroneous information was due to a lack of understanding on your part. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility, as the consumer, to make sure you understand what you’ve agreed to.
And taking inexpert advice from an untrained agent is no excuse. Just like you wouldn’t accept banking advice from your next-door neighbour, you should also avoid listening to the wrong person when it comes to something as important as travel health insurance. If they don’t have the training or knowledge to give you the help you need, why are you buying your travel insurance from them? Then again, you might ask: How do you know if you’re speaking with the right person?
Talking the talk
When you are deciding on the right travel insurance policy for you, there are a few ways to distinguish an agent who simply talks the talk from one who can walk the walk. Ask yourself the following:
- When I ask a specific question, does my agent give a specific answer?
- Is my agent unable to give me advice about my special need or pre-existing condition? Does s/he seem uncertain about which plan is best for me?
- Is s/he unable to clearly explain any confusing terms on my policy?
- After posing a question, do I find myself more confused than I was before?
- Does s/he seem reluctant to provide me the important answers in writing?
If you answered “yes” to even one of the questions above, it’s time to find yourself a new insurance agent! Knowledgeable agents should be able to provide you with clear, straightforward answers; and if they are unsure, they shouldn’t hesitate to call the insurance provider to clarify. Bottom line: You should feel confident that your policy covers everything you need it to cover.
But is it fair to fault consumers for their confusion? Most people would agree that travel insurance lingo can often feel like another language, and with the ease and convenience of making purchases online, more and more individuals are buying travel insurance on the web. But what happens if you are confused by a question on the form? Or what if you don’t understand the limitations and exclusions, or are unsure of your insurance options? What are your next steps?
You may see purchasing travel insurance through your travel agent as the best way to go. They got you a great deal on your all-inclusive trip, so why shouldn’t you buy your insurance from them too? Travel agents are the industry experts when it comes to helping you plan your dream vacation; but it is important to understand that they are not necessarily licensed to sell travel insurance. They may have a very basic understanding of the product they are selling you and they usually only have one product – so how do you know it’s the right one for you?
Knowledge is power; awareness is everything
Did you know that, in Canada, insurance companies are regulated? This means that licensed insurance agents are accountable to you, the consumer. Unlike unlicensed representatives who sell travel insurance, insurance agents risk losing their licence if they mislead consumers in order to make a sale. And while a big name in the industry may often seem like the best option, you need to ask yourself how transparent they are when it comes to answering your questions or providing you with the information you need to make the right purchase.
And the more questions you ask, the better. An informed consumer is less likely to make that million-dollar mistake. But until the language of insurance becomes a familiar one, consumers need help. How can you be sure that the coverage you bought for your upcoming trip won’t fail you when you need it most? What is a pre-existing condition, do you have one, and is yours covered?
Consult with experts to get the answers you need
If you are unsure of a current treatment or medication, or if you’re not completely clear on what will or will not be covered, we strongly advise you to speak with a human being before you make that purchase. If you are an advisor seeking advice for a client with special needs, leave the worrying to the experts! Your insurance agents should be qualified and prepared to ensure that you understand all the terms and conditions of the policy in question. And you shouldn’t commit to any policy until you’ve gotten all the information that you need.
The truth is, the travel insurance industry is not one that is “set up to fail” as some forms of media might have you believe. As long as you put the time and effort into informing yourself before making a purchase, travel insurance is there to protect you from unexpected medical emergencies while away from home. Think of the research you’d put into buying the perfect mattress or picking out a new car. Doesn’t a purchase like travel insurance deserve the same scrutiny, the same level of serious thought?
Travel insurance is a promise, a contract between the insurer and the insured. Just because you can’t touch it or hold it in your hand doesn’t mean it is any less important than all those tangible products you’ve accumulated throughout your lifetime – in fact, it may be one of the most valuable purchases you ever make.
Thinking of buying travel insurance? Have you…
- researched what’s out there, or are you sticking to the first plan you came across?
- spoken with your doctor, or are you guessing which conditions you are being treated for?
- called a licensed agent, or are you rushing to complete the application before you board the plane?
- read the fine print, or are you making assumptions about what is and isn’t covered?
- checked out the policy glossary, or are you relying on your friend’s interpretation of a confusing term?
- inquired about deductibles, or are you prepared to pay a lower cost now and a higher premium later?
- asked questions, questions, and more questions, or are you concerned you’ll be a bother?
Still confused about the world of travel insurance? Contact Ingle International today and take advantage of our expertise – we are always happy to help!
Before your next trip, you might also be interested in taking a look at the following:
- A Guide to Travel Health Insurance
- Travel Checklist: What to do before you go
- Travellers: Make your health policy work for you
- Ingle International’s Blog: Our library of travel health articles
Learn more about our services and products by visiting the Ingle International main page.