You might assume that travellers with high-risk avocations such as mountain climbing or skydiving would stash a good travel insurance policy in their backpacks. After all, even relatively sedate snowbirds who plan to engage in nothing riskier than pétanque (a form of lawn bowling) during their six-month winter holiday wouldn’t think of leaving home without a multi-million-dollar policy in hand.
So when I hear of a 32-year-old Canadian skydiver, with more than 100 jumps to her credit, ending up with a $500,000 hospital bill after her chute collapsed and she plunged to the Arizona desert floor, I wonder what kind of insurance she had.
According to media reports, Kenzie Markey’s parents thought she had medical insurance through a Visa policy, or possibly through the American Skydiving Association, of which she was a member. But there’s the problem: Neither she nor her family knew what her travel insurance plan would cover. For a skydiver, these details are especially important. According to some media reports, Markey’s father said he expected that BC’s MSP would pay a substantial share of the $500,000 medical bill.
That would be a first, as BC is Canada’s stingiest payer of out-of-country hospital and medical benefits—limiting its reimbursements to $75 CAD per day for inpatient hospital costs. In fact, none of Canada’s provincial health care plans come close to covering the charges that US hospitals typically bill (which routinely range from $5,000 to $10,000 per day—in US funds). And they can go a lot higher for cases as complicated as Ms. Markey’s.
Travel insurance policies differ a lot in terms of their coverage: Some will exclude relatively few risky activities, like scuba diving or show horse jumping, while others will draw the line at rock climbing or hang gliding. Still others will exclude all competitive or professional sports, like whitewater rafting, ski jumping, rodeo activities, and speed events, like motor or bike racing. The point is, just buying a travel insurance policy and stashing it next to your underwear is not only negligent, it can be financially ruinous. That’s a lesson many snowbirds have learned over the years. And that’s why they start hunting for policies that fit their specific health needs weeks—if not months—before they leave for the sunshine.
And that’s also why I avoid recommending (or endorsing) specific policies to you. I don’t know your individual needs, and that is the most important element in connecting policies to buyers. Instead, I will refer you to this comparison chart provided by TIF’s insurance specialist. If you still have questions, talk to representatives of Canada’s best and largest travel insurance providers.
I will resist the urge to tell you that travel insurance is a simple purchase you should have wrapped up in 10 minutes… or the day before you leave. Because it’s not. Please give it at least as much attention as you would to your next purchase of a 72-inch flat screen TV.