Earlier this year, newspapers in the CanWest chain carried a story headlined “Travel Insurance is a Waste.” The story was also picked up by radio stations across the country. The underlying claim was that travel insurance only duplicates the coverage most people have through other insurance (e.g., homeowners or medical), so in most cases, it is redundant.
What the CanWest and radio stories did not reveal, however, was that the original report appeared in an American newspaper. It was based on a magazine survey of American consumers and the use of private health insurance in the United States. The data, when applied to Canadians (whose health insurance does not cover them out of the country) couldn’t be more wrong, and it couldn’t be a more damaging piece of advice for the millions of Canadians who travel to foreign countries each year.
Carrying the story in Canada without even checking its applicability for Canadian readers was an irresponsible piece of journalism. Let’s hope Canadian travellers saw through it and used their better judgment. In fact, all provincial and federal governments strongly urge Canadians to buy private travel health insurance when they leave the country.
The point is that provincial health insurance covers such a tiny portion of out-of-country medical services (maybe 10 per cent) that it is almost irrelevant. Canadians travelling out of the country, therefore, are vulnerable to financial catastrophe if they have a serious medical emergency in the United States, Mexico, Europe, Dominican Republic, Asia—virtually anywhere they travel—if they don’t have the safety net of private supplemental health insurance. In the United States, where most people have only private health insurance, many of their plans provide for out-of-area (and out-of-country) emergency medical coverage. (Although most will not fly a patient back home by air ambulance, and many will require the traveller to pay any medical bills up front and seek reimbursement once home.) Consequently, travel health insurance is not considered as high a priority by Americans as it is for Canadians.
Among Canadian snowbirds, some of whom spend almost half of their lives out of the country, more than 80 per cent buy travel insurance and most would not dare leave the country without it. That’s only common sense, despite the media reports.