I have lived half my life in Canada, half in the US, and it has always amazed me that most Canadians I know personally, know more about travel in the US and abroad, than they do about Canada. It’s time to remedy that.
But as with travel anywhere else, travel throughout Canada needs some foreknowledge—especially in respect to management of a medical emergency while out of your province.
According to several recent surveys, about three quarters of Canadian frequent travelers buy some form of travel insurance when journeying out of the country. They know the financial risks they run by traveling uninsured.
But they’re not so sure about the need for travel insurance to cover medical emergencies when traveling to other provinces even though all insurers strongly advise purchase of insurance for coverage within Canada.
Do you need it?
Portability of medical and hospital services for interprovincial travelers has been a key requirement of the Canada Health Act and the Medical Care Act that preceded it.
In effect, if you’re a resident of one province, you should be able to travel to any other, and be treated for any medically-necessary emergency services you need by simply showing your provincial health card. In such case, the health ministry in the province you’re visiting will bill the ministry in your home province for services rendered. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen. It doesn’t always. And, that does not include your traveling to another province for treatment simply because you can’t get into a hospital at home, or you’ve heard that treatment of condition x is done better in Alberta than in Nova Scotia or vice versa. For that kind of transfer you will need permission from your home provincial health agency.
Because Quebec has never signed the portability agreement that all other provinces have agreed to, you may have to pay hospital and doctors’ fees charged directly, and seek reimbursement from your home provincial health agency. Similarly, Quebec residents should expect to pay hospital and medical charges directly in other provinces and file for reimbursement when they get home.
How do provinces differ?
Because each province administers its own health system, there are often difference between provinces in what they cover, what they exclude, and certain fees.
No matter where you travel in Canada, if you need an ambulance to get to hospital or to travel between hospitals, you may well receive a bill for those services that is not covered by your home health insurance agency, or that of your host province. And according to a 2015 CBC Marketplace survey, ambulance fees may run from $45 in Ontario to $500 in parts of Manitoba.
Similarly, pharmaceuticals are not all covered at the same rates, and some provinces may not cover prescribed drugs at all.
Some provinces do not cover chiropractic services, or naturopathy, or other allied services, even though your province might. That leaves you on the hook for the bill.
Travel insurance is designed to cover those unexpected costs.
Ultimately, though, most of the services you will need in out-of-province hospitals or from doctors or outpatient departments or clinics will be covered under portability agreements and you will be spared the catastrophic costs you sometimes hear about from uninsured Canadians treated in US hospitals.
Only you can decide if it’s worth spending money on travel insurance within Canada to protect against costs which may not be catastrophic, but may be (or not) beyond your comfort level if you have to pay them. In effect, how much risk are you prepared to take?
If you’re going on a bear hunting trip to northern Manitoba, you may have a different view of risk than if you’re heading to the Calgary Stampede (as a visitor, not a participant.)
Whatever your choice. Know your policy. Make sure you read not only what is covered but what is excluded.
Are you ready to hop on a Stampede and get trotting? Arm yourself with ample travel insurance coverage.