Snowbirds: Buy Travel Insurance Early, But Watch for Health Changes

Snowbird season will be here before you know it. It’s time to start shopping for travel insurance. Buying early is good.  But if your health changes in any way before you leave, you must tell your insurer or risk disqualification. Read the fine print.

Travel insurance is based on the answers you provide on your application.  If you complete your application two months before you leave, and start having unusual symptoms in the interim, or you need a change in your medication, or your family physician refers you for tests or a visit to a specialist, that is a change in your medical status—a sign of medical instability—and your insurer needs to know about it.

There are very few insurance policies that do not require you to answer a pretty thorough set of medical questions. It’s on the basis of those questions that the insurer agrees to cover you, sets the limitations for that coverage, and fixes a price. Change those terms after you have signed the contract or paid the premium and the deal’s off—just as it is with any other contract. What that means is that if you have a claim for medical services, the insurer may invalidate your coverage because the condition you had treated might be considered pre-existing, unstable, or render you ineligible.

So if you have completed your medical application online, as more snowbirds are doing, after you complete the questionnaire and pay your fee—make absolutely sure you read the policy that is posted online, and if you can’t find it, have the insurer courier or fax you a copy immediately.  You need to read the terms, understand them, comprehend your own obligations and responsibilities, and you have 10 days to do so during which you can invalidate the contract and get your money back.

Don’t leave out this crucial step.  Insurers should be much more vigilant about requiring their clients to read and understand their policy. They should make that a condition of each sale. They don’t. It’s up to you to make sure you know what you bought.  Use those 10 days to check out any doubtful answers you have provided on your questionnaire with your doctor, if necessary. Make sure you understand the definitions of  pre-existing condition, stable or unstable conditions, eligibility requirements, as your insurer explains them in the policy. That’s the language that counts—not your dictionary. Tell the absolute truth in your questionnaire.  Don’t make judgments about what you think is “relevant.” If your application asks if you have ever been treated for gallstones, don’t fudge on the answer just because your doctor has treated you but said it’s of no concern.  That kind of answer can cost you thousands of dollars later if you need to have a gall bladder operation while you’re out of the country.

Investigate as many plans as you can.  Buy early. But don’t consider the deal closed until you have left on your trip.

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