The story: A man and his wife travelled from Croatia to Canada to visit relatives. While here, the husband became ill and spent a few days in Vancouver General Hospital at a cost of close to $50,000.
Canadians are familiar with such tales: He didn’t have the right insurance. But as much as we know about our own travel insurance needs—and the astronomical cost of visiting a hospital during our travels—our foreign visitors may know nothing about the cost of medical care here.
Europeans who carry a free European Health Insurance Card may romp all over the 28 associated countries and access state-provided health care during a temporary visit, a privilege that Croatians acquired last year. (Many Canadians dream of one day having a reciprocal health care agreement with the United States, as residents of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand have with each other and other countries, though not Canada.)
Retired Toronto editor David Ellis tells of the time in 2001 that a travel companion became ill at a restaurant in France, and he had to plead with the hospital in Montélimar to accept payment for numerous tests it conducted. “Almost reluctantly they sent an invoice for 60 or 70 Euros, but I had to ask for it,” says Ellis. Meanwhile, visitors to certain other parts of the world might get by with minimal travel medical coverage, but only because health care costs are low or their medical emergencies are minor.
But your foreign visitors could be in for a shock if they happen to become ill or injured while in Canada. You may have to coach them before they arrive, or actually arrange the necessary coverage for them.
“I don’t know what the issues were but [the family of the Croatian visitors] had a hard time having [the insurer] honor what they thought they had bought,” says Ashley Gray, who runs his own insurance agency in Langley, British Columbia.
Croatian coverage was “undependable”
Gray was told few details of the “undependable” Croatian coverage but when the couple visited Canada again, they turned to him for better coverage. “We took care of them with ‘visitors-to-Canada coverage,’” he recounted.
Some policies sold in other countries may simply not be suitable for the high cost of medical care in North America. Similarly, products developed by Canadian insurers to suit visitors, foreign workers, new immigrants, and Canadians returning from a lengthy absence should come with a warning.
“I would warn against choosing the minimum amount of coverage [available] under a Visitors to Canada policy,” says Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist at Ingle International Ltd.
“We recommend that customers purchase at least $50,000 of coverage, due to the high cost of medical treatment in Canada. The Visitors plans we offer can provide up to $300,000 of coverage [per person].”
By contrast, “some plans offer maximum limits as low as $10,000, which may very well be inadequate if an insured person is hospitalized or requires medical transportation,” Davies notes.
The cost of the extra coverage will be relatively inexpensive. A young couple in their 30s would pay $48.16 for 14 days of coverage ($10,000) with the Travel Underwriters Visitors to Canada Platinum plan, but could each get 30 times more coverage ($300,000) for a total of $191.80.
You and your visitors should also be aware of policy exclusions. For example, that same Travel Underwriters (TU) policy will only cover expenses related to pre-existing medical conditions if the condition has been stable for at least 120 days prior to the effective date of coverage. Those aged 70 to 79 must pay extra for additional coverage for stable pre-existing medical conditions. (TU’s coverage is available for travellers up to age 90, including while they are in transit between home and Canada, provided the trip is shorter than seven days.)
Other restrictions apply in the case of a recent sickness, a recent medical test or consultation, travel within nine weeks of a pregnant woman’s delivery date, treatments for infants less than 14 days old, and care for an ongoing medical condition.
Ingle maintains a comparison of the main features of four different Visitor to Canada plans online, along with a price-quotation tool. These plans typically cover visitors’ trips from their home country to Canada, plus side trips to other foreign countries, as long as the majority of the policy duration is spent in Canada. “This is often useful to visitors, since they [may be] interested in taking a side trip to the US when visiting loved ones in Canada,” says Davies.
Some visitors to Canada travel here carrying what’s called a Super Visa, which requires them to have at least one year of medical coverage with a limit of $100,000.
The Canadian advantage
The advantage of dealing with a Canadian-regulated insurer and a licensed brokerage is that they will be familiar with the local hospitals, air ambulance services, and legal requirements available to protect consumers.
Having family or friends here to represent their best interests could also help. Just keep the cost of medical care in mind when hosting guests from other countries. Their financial well-being could depend on it.
For more travel tips and articles, check out the Ingle International blog.