Travel Insurance Is Essential for Canadian Snowbirds

With many American hospitals routinely demanding deposits or direct payments for services provided to foreign patients, out-of-country medical insurance has never been more important for Canadian snowbirds.

Though federal law requires all American hospitals to treat medical emergencies without regard for the patients’ ability to pay, or whether or not they have insurance, it does not restrict them from requesting substantial deposits or commitments to pay all bills directly. With or without a deposit, you will still be treated and your service will be good. But if you don’t have more than just your provincial government health plan, you will be followed for payment, even if the hospital has to put your account out for collection, and being out of the country will not protect you from those collectors.

Supplemental private travel insurance, such as that offered by the companies listed on our site or elsewhere in the Canadian insurance marketplace, will protect you against most of these demands. Increasingly, however, American hospitals in high-density tourist areas (Las Vegas, Arizona, California, even Florida) are stepping up their attempts to extract deposits from their foreign patients.

All companies listed on this page meet TIF’s criteria for essential benefit coverage limits for Canadians and all have extensive service agreements with American hospitals. Feel free to explore their plans and compare their coverage limits, exclusions and premium prices. You may also purchase online if you see a plan that meets your specific needs.

If you have private supplemental coverage and you notify your insurer immediately upon entering the hospital (preferably before, if possible), the insurer can intervene and help deflect the hospital’s demands. But your policy must be valid and you must meet the insurer’s requirements for immediate notification. You will still be required to sign a commitment that you are responsible for any and all bills submitted by the hospital or doctors treating you in case your insurer fails to do so, but that’s no different from what American residents must commit to. That’s routine procedure. Irrespective of that, you will still be treated for any medical emergency.

Unlike hospitals in Canada, which are financed largely by government-allotted tax revenues, American hospitals—even non-profit institutions (which account for most acute care, community hospitals in the country)—must make ends meet. If they fail to do so, they will close. And right now, almost half of American hospitals are operating either in the red or within narrow, three to four per cent profit margins. Though federal and state government Medicare and Medicaid payments account for close to half of American hospital revenues, their payment rates generally cover only 80 per cent of operating costs, so hospitals must rely on private insurance to make up the difference and to pay for new equipment, the latest technologies, and specialty expertise. Health care is an extraordinarily expensive commodity, and it is getting more expensive, no matter where you are. Somebody must pay.

American hospital accounting personnel in high-density tourist areas also know how little Canadian government insurance plans pay for out-of-country services and will not accept their coverage terms.

They will, however, deal favourably with most Canadian supplemental travel health insurance providers.

Self-paying your hospital bill is not an option—no matter which hospital you go to. Even a few hours in an emergency department undergoing basic testing will cost thousands of dollars. Routine admission will run to several thousands of dollars per day. Don’t even think about it.

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