There are hundreds of different travel health insurance plans available. Each has its own individual characteristics so you need to ask questions about what you are buying. But they fall into just a few major categories.
The first is the Single Trip plan which covers you for one specific trip with designated beginning and ending effective dates. You apply for each trip individually and if medical questions or health issues are involved, you treat each application as a new and distinct contract. Don’t expect your insurer to go digging back in old files to research medical data you provided on a previous application. The Single Trip plan is most appropriate for people who travel only once or twice a year and know well in advance when they will be doing so. It’s also most appropriate for people taking longer trips, such as snowbirds going away for several months.
The Annual or Multi Trip plan is for more frequent travelers as it allows you to sign up once and make as many trips out of the country as you wish over the course of the year. Usually, the plan specifies a maximum number of days per each trip segment, but it allows the flexibility of doing trips at the last moment without going through separate insurance application processes. And leaving travel insurance until the last possible moment is always a bad idea as it doesn’t give you the time to read over the policy and to question its limitations and exclusions. One thing to be careful of, however, is that if you become ill or have an accident during one of those segments, that may become a pre-existing condition for the next segment and could put you at risk for an unexpected exclusion. If that happens, contact your insurer immediately and have your medical status adjusted.
Many employee, pension or retirement group plans may also include some out-of-country health care coverage. Make sure you see the fine print about what these benefits include as they generally have limits on the length of time they will cover you and the dollar amounts of coverage. Some of these plans provide a limited “bank account” of benefits e.g. 40 days or $100,000 or more. But once the benefit s are used up they are not replenished, or you may have plan does replenish but only up to a limit. Make sure you know what your plan does.
Many Canadians ho have such plans use them as a coverage base and then add top ups from commercial insurers. Before you do this make you know if your employer plan allows top ups. Not all do. And be clear about the risks. For example, if you want to top up an existing 40-day group benefit plan, the additional retail plan will cover you only from day 41. If you have a medical emergency during those first 40 days, your group plan will be liable. But that emergency may then be considered a pre-existing condition for the retail plan that only goes into effect on day 41, and so you may not be covered. You may find yourself caught in conflicts between your insurers.
Patching together plans is a risky business. Sometimes you may be better off buying a longer term retail plan that covers you from day one and leaving your group or employee plan for shorter trips that won’t exceed the plan’s limits. It may also be cheaper.
Credit Card companies offer limited out- of- country coverage as part of their premium price. Understand what those limitations are. Don’t assume they all offer the same benefits and make sure you know what those limitations are-maximum number of days covered, dollar limitations, and particularly health and pre-existing conditions requirements. You should assume that if you are not asked any health questions, you will not be covered for any pre-existing conditions. Read what I have to say about pre-existing conditions before you take that risk.