As the quotes below will demonstrate, it pays off to shop around before purchasing travel medical insurance.
Most Canadians are aware that our government health plans won't cover any medical expenses outside our province of residence over and above what the cost for the same services would be at home.
In most cases, there's a huge difference. In fact, a hospital stay in a foreign county, including the United States, without travel medical insurance coverage can often drain a person's life savings.
As we age, this extended health insurance gets more expensive but we would not travel without it.
If you're lucky enough to have workplace or pension benefits that includes this coverage, carefully check the policy for the maximum trip duration. Depending on how long you plan to travel, you may need to top it up. Since travel medical insurance is one of our major costs of travel, and things change from year to year, I research the best plan for our needs before every major trip. As a result, we don't end up choosing the same carrier every time. I just did all the research in preparation for our 2011 six-month trip. On this page, I'll share what I discovered. Of course your circumstances, your age, and overall health are bound to be different than ours but it may give you some idea of where to look and what to expect.
More important than the cost of the insurance is being sure you'll be able to collect on a claim. This year, my process of finding a travel medical insurance plan was very much influenced by a very informative article, written by a former employee of major insurance companies. Previously, Randy and I never bothered with a broker. As it turns out, I found out that the cost of travel medical insurance is no different whether a broker is involved or not so, as the article suggests, this time, we took the time to find a broker.
Randy and I are different. Yeah, I'm sure you presumed that :-)) But our ages and pre-existing medical conditions aren't the same either. Along with about half the female population over fifty, I'm under treatment for osteoporosis. The underwriter that gave Randy the best rate considered this a pre-existing condition. In essence, if I fell and broke a leg, a claim with that insurer might be denied unless I paid a substantially higher premium to have the condition covered. However, with another underwriter, osteoporosis isn't listed as serious enough to necessitate the higher premium. With that company the premiums are higher to begin with but still quite a bit lower than I would pay with the company that would be insuring Randy. In this case, we could save a few hundred dollars by each insuring with a different underwriter.
We don't purchase travel medical insurance because we fear a MINOR incident, illness, or doctor's visit that might put us out-of-pocket a few hundred dollars - THAT we could handle! But a major incident, special tests, or a hospital stay could quickly add up to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs -THAT'S why we buy insurance. With a zero-deductible policy, we would be covered for both minor and major incidents. If you are experiencing "sticker shock" over the quotes you get for your travel medical insurance, perhaps you should consider a higher deductible. In some cases this makes more sense than others. Remember that you'll have to pay the deductible amount for every separate incident. Do the math, weigh the risks, and decide if it makes sense for you.
After checking various options for our travel medical insurance, I was shocked by the difference in costs from one carrier to another. Although your own age, health, and other factors will vary, my findings might demonstrate how important it is to shop around. Randy and I are 58 and 59 years of age. He's in perfect health and my osteoporosis has been stable with no change in treatment for more than a year. Except for the one company (noted) the following quotes were the same for Randy and myself. All are for a zero deductible policy with five million dollars coverage.
Group Medical Services (GMS)
Our quoted rate: $2.66 per person per day.
GMS is a Saskatchewan based underwriter and we chose them as our carrier on a previous trip in 2008. They're one of the foremost underwriters for Canadian snowbirds and you can deal with them directly (very pleasant, informed staff) or ask for a referral to a broker in your area. Once again, they came in with the best price, but a few others weren't far behind.
Our quoted rate: $3.38 per person per day.
This is another underwriter who specializes only in travel insurance.
Our quoted rate: $3.42 per person per day.
Probably one of the most recognized health and travel insurance companies world wide. You can purchase Blue Cross through many institutions, including your bank. That's not quite the same as having a knowledgable broker, though. Call Blue Cross at the above number and they will arrange for a local broker to contact you.
Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)
(The link brings you to the CAA home page - you'll have to choose your province to get to the specific travel medical insurance page. Note: You do not have to be a CAA member to purchase the insurance through them.) Our quoted rate: $4.04 per person per day.
Many people rely on CAA for their roadside assistance plan. We bought our travel medical insurance through them on one of our extended trips but, at this time, their quote is so much higher, they aren't even in the ballgame. Curiously, Manulife is the underwriter for CAA but the rates through CAA are far higher than when you purchase direct from Manulife or through a private broker.
Randy will turn 60 just after our trip starts so we wondered if that would affect the quote but, with all the underwriters we looked at, the age they consider is your age at the time the policy is purchased or takes effect.
The difference in cost between the lowest quote $2.06 and the highest $4.04 wouldn't make enough difference to worry about for a two-week holiday but over six months, it's $248.40 per person. So, for the two of us, we could save nearly $500.00 by insuring with GMS instead of CAA. Of course cost isn't the only factor.
The kikipotamus article suggested we find a broker by asking the carrier for the name of their top brokers. I tried to get that information but found that, although they would pass on the name and phone numbers of the brokers in my area, I was unable to get any of them to reveal anything about performance. So, if I wanted to use a broker, I was on my own to choose one.
We decided to deal with someone who knows us so we contacted the broker who handles our automobile and home insurance. As it turned out, he suggested the Manulife policy (at $2.81 per person per day), and this is route we decided to go with.
Ontario residents looking for a broker should check out Sanderson Insurance Brokers - a small office in Lindsay, Ontario. 1-877-226-8728. The underwriters they recommended for Randy and I were Travel Insurance Coordinators and Travel Underwriters. Extended health insurance and travel medical insurance is all they sell (mostly to RVers) so I would suspect they are a very knowledgeable and experienced choice.
Now, as I say about any insurance purchase - "I hope we just bought something we'll never use !!!"