Most travel insurance sold in Canada is priced to reflect the high cost of medical care in the United States, since most Canadian travellers choose to go there. If the US is not your destination, however, you could save a bit of money.
What are my options, and how much can I save?
At least two Canadian companies offer emergency medical plans for countries other than the US:
• Travel Underwriters of Richmond, BC
• Travel Insurance Coordinators Ltd. of Toronto, ON
As of mid-2013, travellers could save 9 to 11 per cent compared with the cost of a policy for US travel. Pascal Bino, a senior consultant who monitors travel insurance for Avalon Actuarial in Montreal, said the plans designed by these two Canadian travel insurance companies are unique, as far as he is aware.
What would happen if I bought a non-USA plan, but went to a US hospital?
That will depend on the circumstances. You would not be covered for medical care if you make the decision to hop over from Mexico to seek care in the US. Your policy will require that you first go to the nearest hospital, and notify the insurer’s emergency assistance line. Medical staff there will then try to determine what’s best for you. If that means flying you by air ambulance to the US, that will happen and the insurer will pay valid claims—as long as they have approved and arranged for the medical transportation.
Will McAleer of Travel Underwriters cited one unusual case and one common example of when staff at the emergency assistance company, OneWorld Assist Inc. (OWA), decided non-USA policyholders would be transferred to the US.
An Unusual Case
“A couple with a three-year-old daughter was vacationing in Mexico. The daughter swallowed some unmarked pills, and became very ill. She was taken to a nearby local clinic that did not have the appropriate equipment to take care of her. If she had not received the appropriate care, she would have died. OWA approved and arranged her transfer to a hospital in San Diego, where she had her stomach pumped. Even though she did not have USA travel insurance coverage, the hospital and air evacuation fees were billed to OWA directly.”
Related: More on Travel Insurance for Kids
“We have a lot of travellers that vacation on the small islands off the East Coast (of the USA), such as the Bahamas. If a traveller experiences a life-threatening medical emergency, … and requires treatment that is not available there, OWA would transfer them to Miami for treatment. All transfers must be documented by treating doctors and pre-approved by OWA doctors,” said McAleer.
When you can’t get back to Canada…
Leonard Sharman, a spokesman for The Co-operators Group Ltd. and owner of Travel Insurance Coordinators, confirmed that the company would also cover the cost of care in the US in such circumstances.
“Our preference would be to bring the person home to Canada,” he noted. But, if that was not feasible or safe and the person required care in the USA, “that sort of thing would be covered.”
What if I travel through the US to get to my final destination?
Non-USA plans allow purchasers to spend up to five days in the US. “If a traveller experiences a life-threatening medical emergency while in transit through the USA (such as to catch a flight or cruise ship), OWA will ensure care is provided even if they have non-USA coverage,” says McAleer.
Although travel insurance is more expensive for trips to the US, you can save money when purchasing insurance provided your travel destination is somewhere else. And with non-USA travel insurance, you would still be covered for care in the US if you spend five or fewer days there on your way to another destination, or if the insurer’s emergency assistance staff arranged to have you transferred to a US hospital. But as always, if you have any questions, seek professional advice when choosing the right type of policy for your travel needs.