One of the most baffling myths passed on about Canadian health care is that it’s free. Far from it: you pay for it very handsomely in your taxes every time you buy gas, a pair of shoes, or a case of beer.
In fact, you pay some of the highest costs for health care in the industrialized world, even though you pay nothing when you visit your doctor or a hospital for routine or emergency care. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that same “generosity” will be extended to a friend or relative from another country visiting you over the coming holidays.
Let’s face it: hospitals are not the charitable institutions they once were. They may be funded by their provincial governments, but only for care of their residents. All others pay cash—or, if they’re from another province, by funds transferred out of their own provincial treasuries.
Ice can ruin your holidays
So bear that in mind that if you plan on hosting friends, family, or loved ones from Ireland, the Philippines, the United States or any other foreign country, that any sudden illness or accident—a slip on the ice, a relatively minor ankle or knee sprain, or serious heart or gall bladder attack—can result in thousands of dollars of unexpected expenses, and the ruination of a lot more than just one short visit.
Hospitals in Canada are expensive, as they are anywhere in the world. And Canadian hospitals are also relatively free to charge foreign patients what they consider “market” prices. In major cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and even in more rural areas, daily ward rates of $5,000 to $6,000 per day are not unusual—and that does not cover the costs of the ICU, or medications, or doctors’ fees. And when dealing with foreign patients, Canadian hospital administrators will demand payment, or some guarantee of payment, before the patients leave. Hopefully they have such a guarantee from a recognized insurer.
No free lunch, no free care
The myth of “free care” is pernicious, and you need to guard against it and protect your foreign visitors—and perhaps yourselves—by warning them that they need supplementary travel health insurance that is effective the moment they set foot in Canada, preferably purchased before they leave home. Whatever health insurance they may have for their own domestic needs may not be valid once they get to Canada.
For example, if you’ll be hosting parents from the U.S. who are on basic Medicare, they will not be covered for any medical services in Canada. They will need to have a supplemental Medicare plan that specifically includes foreign travel health benefits, and only some of the more expensive supplements offer such benefits. They need to know their insurance, and know it well. Travel health insurance in the U.S. is not as widely understood or used as it is in Canada, so you should be sure to bring it up with your American visitors.
Visitor policies differ
You can best help out your visitors by alerting them to the availability of Visitors to Canada insurance and, if necessary, guiding them to Canadian insurance vendors who specialize in these plans—perhaps the same insurers who provide your out-of-country insurance when you take your vacations.
Visitor plans are specifically designed to cover your guests for the entire duration of their trip but, like other travel insurance, there are eligibility rules, exclusions, and limitations that make them somewhat different from the single-trip or annual plans you buy when you travel out of the country.
There are single-trip visitor plans that are best suited for short stays, and there are longer-term plans designed for parents or relatives staying with you for extended periods—such as a year or two. These latter products are known as “Super Visa” plans, and they can be purchased for a specific period such as six months or a year or two, but are payable on a manageable monthly basis. Generally, these would be superior to buying repeat short-term plans over and over for a prolonged period.
These also avoid “exclusion gaps,” such as pre-existing conditions limitations and waiting periods each time you apply for renewal of a short-term single-trip contract, and they are certainly cheaper over the long run.
But even these plans have rules and eligibility requirements your visitors need to know about. We’ll explain some of those in Part 2 of this series.
Expecting visitors over the holidays? Browse your Visitors to Canada insurance options.