As the quotes below will demonstrate, it pays off to shop around before purchasing travel medical insurance.
Most Canadians are aware that their government health plans won't cover any medical expenses outside their province of residence over and above what the cost for the same services would be at home.
Traveling to other provinces, the difference may be minimal but still worth looking into before you travel. However, in most cases, when traveling outside of Canada there's a huge difference. In fact, a hospital stay in a foreign country, including the United States, without extended travel medical insurance coverage can easily drain a person's life savings!
As we age, extended health insurance becomes more expensive but we would never consider traveling without it.
If you're lucky enough to have workplace or pension benefits that includes this coverage, carefully check the policy for maximum trip duration. Depending on how long you plan to travel, you may need to top it up. As Canadians, travel medical insurance is one of our major costs of travel and things change from year to year, so we make the effort to research the best plan for our needs before every major trip. As a result, we don't always choose the same carrier every time. On this page, I'll share some of the options we've gone with over the years. 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. My first piece of advice is to use a broker. The cost of travel medical insurance is no different whether you buy it through a broker or direct from the underwriter. A broker is simply an insurance agent - a real person - who you can call for help if you should need to make a claim. Some carriers don't use brokers. I would avoid them. The cheapest rate will mean nothing if you have to go to court to collect on a legitimate claim.
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. One underwriter that gave Randy the best rate considered my condition 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 saved 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.
As of 2020, some policies explicitly won't cover medical care related to the Novel Coronavirus, Covid-19. This could be the case with other new viruses of the future, too. Some carriers do cover it but, perhaps, with certain restrictions or higher premiums. There's no way of knowing where or when the next virus hotspot may be and, if there's one thing the world learned in 2020, things can change quickly. So don't presume you're traveling to a "safe" location. You'll want to take this into consideration.
After checking various options for our travel medical insurance for each trip, I'm often 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.
As an example, in 2011, when Randy and I were 58 and 59 years of age, he was in perfect health and my osteoporosis had 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 both of us. All are for a zero-deductible policy with five million dollars coverage. This was now several years ago but it's just an example of how much rates can vary. It's important to do your own comparison research every few years.
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 knowledgeable 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.
The longer you plan to travel (in the example case it was for six months), the more important it is to buy the right insurance. The likelihood increases that something could happen - whether health, accident, or family related - that'll result in an earlier return date. All the above companies offer to refund premiums for an early return. You will have to prove what date you were back in your home province. A dated credit card purchase or bank machine receipt will usually suffice. Three of the above companies, Blue Cross, Travel Underwriters, and Travel Insurance Co-ordinators, charge two-weeks of premiums or a maximum of $25.00 to $50.00 administration fee for this service. These factors may also influence your choice.
Randy was turning 60 just after that trip started so we wondered if that would affect the quote but, with all the underwriters we looked at, they consider only the age you are on the date the policy 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 would have come to $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.
You can find a broker by asking the carrier for the name and phone number of the brokers in your area. We decided to deal with someone who knows us, so we contacted the agent who handles our automobile and home insurance. He suggested the Manulife policy (at $2.81 per person per day), so that was the route we went for that particular trip.
Ontario residents looking for a broker should consider Sanderson Insurance Brokers - a division of Wayfarer Insurance, a small office in Lindsay, Ontario. 1-877-226-8728.
Many Canadians use the Medipac Travel Plan as recommended by the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA). We chose them on two of our extended trips ourselves. In my opinion, when underwriters specialize in extended health and travel medical insurance, rather than just as a sideline with other insurance offerings, and it's all the company sells, it's pretty safe to presume they're a knowledgeable and experienced choice.
There are pages and pages of small print for any type of insurance. Don't count on your broker to go over it line-by line; they won't. You can and should ask specific questions, but it's up to you to read the small print and know what's covered and under what circumstances. A prime example is a story I read online where travelers berated the travel insurance they had as a scam. They had missed their cruise departure because they were stuck in traffic due to an accident on the freeway. They were sure the policy covered them for an accident that prevented them from catching the cruise. In fact, they would have been covered if they had themselves been involved in the accident.
Now, as I say about any insurance purchase - "I hope I just bought something we'll never use !!!"
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