We put ourselves in a skydiver’s shoes. Just how difficult, we wondered, would it be for them to find medical insurance for travel to another province or country? And so we began our Project Skydivers search for the right travel insurance.
While parachuting is not a hugely popular sport, we chose it because of the wakeup call jumpers received in April. BC electrician Kenzie Markey was seriously injured after her parachute collapsed during a jump in Arizona. She was left with $500,000 of uninsured medical bills, according to news reports.
Most policies exclude skydivers
The first thing that became obvious during our survey of coverage options was that no travel insurer in Canada advertises: “Parachutists: Get your medical insurance here!” Jumpers who shop on their own might have to find and inspect several different polices to get suitable coverage.
Our sample of 24 available policies (requires Adobe Reader) includes 20 that either exclude parachuting or skydiving by name, or have an air of mystery or foreboding about them. (See excerpts and links to the policies.)
These policies exclude an untold number of sports with terms like high-risk, dangerous, hazardous, or extreme. Potential buyers must contact their insurer to confirm whether the policy will cover them if they pursue a particular passion, or whim.
Same names, different exclusions
Our Project Skydivers search was time-consuming, even with the help of some kind corporate media contacts. But it revealed a number of key lessons for skydivers and other sports-minded travellers:
- Some policies name some sports they exclude—and then they add a general exclusion as well.
- You cannot assume an insurer will (or will not) cover a particular sport.
- Even two policies from the same insurer could have different exclusions if all distributors are provided with customized wordings.
- Some policies exclude parachutists based on the aircraft they might fly in.
- Internet searches will turn up policies that do not cover Canadians specifically.
- A US association markets insurance to parachutists, but not for Canadians and not for medical expenses—but instead accidental death and dismemberment expenses.
- A Canadian association for parachutists makes no mention of insurance on its website.
Reporter failed to find coverage
Markey’s parents in Nova Scotia told reporters they thought an American parachuting association or their daughter’s credit card would have the necessary insurance—but she had no such luck.
When CBC News reporter Matt Kwong asked about coverage for skydivers, insurance industry representatives spoke in generalities. “Some plans do [cover skydiving]; some plans don’t,” said Wendy Hope, Vice-President of External Relations with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.
“Find a policy that’s very specific,” advised John Thain, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada. “If it’s a very general exclusion of ‘hazardous sports,’ then what is a hazardous sport? To avoid those situations, you want to try and get clarity before you travel.”
So we did more legwork than the CBC’s Kwong would have had time to do. We confirmed that the following two policies marketed to all types of travellers would pay for emergency medical care for an amateur parachutist travelling outside of Canada, and for land and air ambulance services if required in another province:
- Manulife Global Travel Insurance requires Adobe Reader
- TuGo (formerly Travel Underwriters) requires Adobe Reader
“We exclude very few high-risk activities [from the Freedom policy], since travellers like to explore the world on their terms,” said TuGo spokesperson Jamie Ong. “Our emergency medical plan would not have specifically excluded skydiving … only certain risks (SCUBA [diving] unless certified, rodeo, show jumping and horse racing, motorized speed contests and professional sports).”
The Freedom policy does include a requirement to use due diligence to control the insurer’s costs. But Ong said that refers only to notifying the insurer so it can ensure that emergency treatments are billed at “usual, reasonable and customary” rates.
“People who travel with our Freedom policy don’t need to know the specifics of the high-risk activities they want to participate in. For instance, we will cover a traveller who goes to Colorado and decides to take a hike,” said Ong. “They don’t need to worry whether mountain climbing is excluded from cover.”
Few reward credit cards will cover jumpers
Two of the most popular credit cards that offer travel insurance for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks only exclude participation in professional sports and motorized speed contests:
- CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite (requires Adobe Reader)
- CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite (requires Adobe Reader)
Curiously, the insurance for these cards from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has stricter sports exclusions for trip cancellation and interruption coverage than for medical coverage. RSA Travel Insurance backs the CIBC cardholder’s medical insurance. Erin Finn, RSA’s Director of Underwriting, confirmed that the information on CIBC’s website is correct. “Every policy is different, and coverage structures vary from provider to provider,” she cautioned in an email.
Meanwhile, CIBC sells standalone policies (backed by Travel Insurance Co-ordinators) that specifically exclude skydiving and parachuting from the medical coverage, along with bungee jumping, rock climbing, mountain climbing, and hang-gliding.
Similarly, RSA sells policies with different rules than the policy it provides to some of CIBC’s cardholders. “[These] policies do not set out specific activities as exclusions. Rather, circumstances would be looked at on an individual basis in terms of whether a reasonable person would consider the activity, occupation or pursuit that he/she undertakes to be hazardous or to have put themselves at exceptional risk,” explained Finn.
Other sports deemed “hazardous,” too
“Sky diving would be classified as a hazardous pursuit, and therefore would not be covered under the policy,” wrote the RSA underwriter. “Likewise, for other sports, determining coverage would require a reasonableness check on the particular activity. As examples, professional sports, racing, motorized competitions of speed, etc. are activities that would typically be excluded.”
A TuGo spokesperson indicated that some of its policies would cover parachuting, but others would not. This could depend on which broker you call, and how long they have had a relationship with TuGo.
Shopping online for travel insurance seems easier in some other countries. We found parachutists recommending insurance online, such as a plan from Bupa International of Brighton, UK. Company spokesperson Alex Jordon confirmed with us by email: “[We do] not apply any restrictions or exclusions in respect of any extreme sports. However, we would not be able to offer Canadian permanent residents cover due to local restrictions in place.”
Associations not stepping up with coverage
The United States Parachute Association has arranged a low-cost insurance plan for its US members, but it has zero medical coverage. The accidental death and dismemberment plan simply pays a lump sum, with a maximum $100,000 for injuries as a result of parachuting, if the person dies, loses both hands or both feet, sight, or hearing, a combination of disabilities, or quadriplegia for at least 12 months.
In Canada, the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association website makes no mention of insurance for its 47 members and 3,500 participants. But Executive Director Michelle Matte-Stotyn says the next issue of the group’s magazine will include a story warning about the importance of emergency medical insurance when travelling to another province or country. “We have our own participants that are also travel insurance providers that help us,” Matte-Stotyn added. “They can assist with the skydiver aspect.”
Seek answers, assume nothing!
We can assure you it would be challenging for a skydiver, or a participant in any other extreme sport, to find the proper coverage without the help of an experienced agent or broker, or the media contacts who helped this writer. If you do find a policy that suits you, whether with the help of a professional or on your own, do not assume that the policy will remain the same from year to year. Never assume anything, and when in doubt, call for help.
For more articles, view the rest of the blogs on Ingle International.