Long Term Snowbird Travel

I have extended health benefits, including travel insurance, from my former employer. Are these benefits good enough for long term snowbird travel, and if not can I “top up” with insurance that will do the job?

Answer: Two recent visitors to this site, Noel and Bob, asked essentially the same question and they were wise in doing so because many of these so called extended plans are not designed for repeated or long term out-of-country travel. What’s worse, is that they don’t clearly define the limitations of their coverage and they can leave the snowbird retiree high and dry should they encounter a serious medical emergency abroad.

In Noel’s case, his employee benefits insurance administrator at Manulife couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer about the extent of his travel insurance benefits: nothing that satisfied him anyway. The administrator just wasn’t a specialist in travel insurance. I’ve heard the same complaint from others. He would have liked to use the plan as a basis for his coverage, topping it up with supplementary single trip insurance as that might have saved him money. He opted instead for buying full service travel insurance created for snowbirds from Day One and left his employee benefits plan for another day. A wise choice. Many employee and pension plans have quite a few limitations, but even if they were extensive enough, if the administrator can’t give you a clearly written contract telling you what is or is not covered, Stay Away.

With Bob, who was a retired provincial civil servant, it was only after several extended trips that he realized his plan covered him for only 40 consecutive days per trip. He didn’t know that. Again, there was no clear detailed explanation of benefits. He too, has now gone to the full-service travel insurance marketplace for coverage from Day One.

That’s not to say you can’t get good “top up” insurance for retiree or civil service pension plans. You can. Some of them are specifically crafted to tie in with these plans so there are no gaps. But you have to be careful. Not all plans interlock. Some do not allow “top ups.” Make sure both your primary and your secondary insurers know your intention and can give you written assurance of the extent of your coverage—nothing less than $1 million, assurance of repatriation to a hospital at home if medically necessary, 24/7 contact numbers, and direct payment to the hospitals and doctors treating you abroad.

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