Is Travel Insurance a Scam?

Over the past weekend, CBC Marketplace reported on several Canadians whose travel insurance claims were denied because they completed their medical applications incorrectly. Apparently, they were unfamiliar with their medical record and they made “innocent mistakes.” That’s tragic. But it doesn’t mean you should consider “going bare” when travelling out of Canada. 

Is travel insurance a scam? No. But you do need to be careful when buying it. You need to pay attention to the details. You can’t just hand over your credit card number to a clerk, stick your unread policy in your desk drawer and fly away.

Contrary to what media investigators may tell you, you don’t need a lawyer to buy travel insurance. But you need to do some work. It’s not enough to ask a travel agent what is meant by policy language or a questionnaire definition. Travel agents are not always your best source for buying travel insurance.  There are literally hundreds of different policies available and the profit margins are too small for travel agents to spend a lot of time brushing up on the differences.

If you are a senior and you need to answer medical questions to get coverage, buy directly from a company that specializes in travel insurance or the insurance company that underwrites it.  And do your own homework as follows:

Read certain parts of your policy.  We know you’re not going to read the whole thing; that would be almost impossible. But you need to know the following parts.

Eligibility Requirements. You may have to answer questions concerning your age and health status, medications you have been prescribed,  conditions you have had treated within a certain time period before you applied, tests you have undergone. This can be quite a lengthy questionnaire, but don’t hurry through it. If there is any language you don’t understand, or if you’re not sure why you’re taking a certain medication or why you were referred to a specialist, you must ask your doctor and enter the correct answer. But take your policy along when you visit your doctor so he or she can see how the insurer defines terms like

  • Pre-existing conditions,
  • Stable or unstable
  • Treatment or investigation

Understand that when your doctor tells you that you are OK to travel, or you don’t need to worry about  your heart murmur or diverticulitis or occasional acid reflux, it is just an opinion, and if it conflicts with the insurer’s written definition, that opinion is worthless if you are faced with a denied claim. Your doctor is not going to pay your claim if it’s denied.

Also, read the Exclusions and Limitations.  If you read nothing else, read all of these clauses: they tell you what the insurer will NOT cover.  Reading the benefits is the easy part.  Canadian travelhealth plans are generous. But it’s in the exclusions and limitation that the details can trip you up. That’s because out of country insurance is for unexpected emergencies and it has a lot of limitations. It does not cover everything.  If it did, you wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to be giving you the lowdown on what you need to look for when shopping for travel insurance—in language you won’t find in any policy: how to buy the best policy for you and your family, how to find the best price without sacrificing coverage, how to bulletproof yourself against denials.  Tell your family members and friends to visit our site.  And send us your questions.

And if in the meantime you are planning a trip out of the country, you can buy coverage from any of the insurers advertising on Travelinsurancefile. They are specialists in this field.  They sell nothing else. They know what they’re talking about. They can keep you out of trouble and off television.

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