Visitors to Canada Need Coverage. Canadian Hospitals Are Not Cheap

Though Canada has a reputation for having a comprehensive, government-funded health care system that covers residents for virtually all medically necessary services, that coverage does not extend to visitors. And if you think health care in Canada is cheap, think again: the daily rate for care in any downtown hospital in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver can easily cost $5,000 or more—a lot more if intensive treatment is required.

If you’re planning to have relatives or friends from outside Canada visit you for any length of time, they need to have Visitors to Canada travel insurance—and they need to know what it covers and, more importantly, what it excludes. This is especially important for your friends and relatives from the United States, Britain, or Europe to understand because they may assume they are covered for unexpected illnesses or accidents in Canada through their own government insurances.

The Brits and citizens from many European countries, for example, have reciprocal health coverage treaties and options that do provide limited coverage when they travel from one EU country to another. But that doesn’t apply to Canada.

And though Americans 65 or over are covered by government-funded Medicare, unless they have supplemental Medicare coverage (which not all do), their benefits stop at the border. There are some Medicare supplement programs that do provide benefits in a foreign country, but your visitors need to know the details of that coverage and they can’t take it for granted that they will be covered as if they were at home.

Most of the major travel insurance companies that sell out-of-country coverage to Canadians also provide Visitors to Canada plans. The benefit levels are considerably lower than the plans offered to Canadian out-of-country travellers—which start at $1 million and go up. Most Visitors to Canada plans offer $25,000 to $150,000 benefit levels. I recommend the $150,000. But your visitors need to know their limitations too.

RBC, Manulife, ETFS, and TIC, among others, stipulate that insurance bought after the visitor arrives in Canada is subject to at least a 48-hour waiting period before its benefits kick in. Some of these plans will provide coverage within 30 days of arrival, but only if the visitor has not seen a doctor or required medical treatment (except for something minor) within that time. What they all recommend is that the visitor purchase insurance before leaving home, to be effective upon arrival.

All such plans also have exclusions for pre-existing conditions that required some treatment or medication change within a given period prior to their arrival—90 days, 180 days, perhaps even 365 days. It varies by policy and by age group.

Some will specifically not cover visitors with a history of heart or lung disease, even though they have been stable. This is to prevent taking on the risk of covering someone who knows they are ill and travels to Canada specifically to get treatment at Canadian taxpayers’ or insurers’ expense. It is not unknown for some travellers from distant countries to deplane in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver and immediately call 911 for transport to a downtown hospital. These plans will also not cover a visitor diagnosed with a terminal disease.

Canadians tend to have a relatively benign attitude to hospital admissions and discharges as they are never faced by billing clerks or collection agencies calling about unpaid hospital debts and so on. But Canadian hospital administrators are not naive about collecting bills from foreign patients or insurers representing foreign patients. Many of them, in fact, see this source of foreign revenue as a bonus to help them make ends meet or get that piece of technology they can’t otherwise afford.

Canadian hospitals can, and they will, demand payment or require promissory notes or other arrangements to get their due. And if it is your uncle or father from Sicily or Norway lying in that hospital bed, would you deny signing that note for payment? Think about it. More importantly, make sure your visitors think about it—before they leave home.

Many of the insurers listed in the Insurance Products section of this site can offer Visitors to Canada plans. But do your shopping carefully and ask questions.

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