Travel Insurance

Planning ahead means no pocket-ache later

Planning to scoot south for a little sun this winter? Hopping across the country to see family and friends during the summer break? Taking a short drive to do some shopping south of the border? I'm willing to bet dogs-to-donuts that you haven't bought travel insurance.

You probably think you don't need it. Don and Peg didn't think so either. They knew their provincial health insurance would cover them if they got sick. Then Don tripped on the stairs and hauled Peg down with him. Don broke his hip and Peg her shoulder. They were all the way in Australia, had to cut their three-week dream vacation short. That left their daughters back home in Canada scrambling for money to help.

If you have extra coverage on that fancy-pants premium credit card in your wallet, you might think you're immune. And if you have a health plan at work, you might think you're insured to the eyeteeth. Maybe not, even if you're just going from one province to another. Check with your provincial plan to see what the restrictions or omissions are. You'll have to call since most of the web sites are totally useless when it comes to describing what covered and what's not. Check your directory's blue pages for the Ministry of Health in your province.

Your provincial plan is also going to be way off when it comes to medical costs south of the border. The average hospital room runs to $1,500 U.S. a day down south, and as high as $10,000 U.S. for intensive care. Yikes! An emergency surgical operation could cost $200,000 U.S. or more. Ohmygawd! And some hospitals won't even let you in the door if you can slap proof of insurance or several thousand dollars down on the table.

Buying insurance is more complex than you might think. Different plans offer different benefits and restrictions. One thing that can limit your coverage is a "pre-existing condition". It could be a past medical condition that required consultation, prescription drugs, hospitalization or treatment. Or it could be an ongoing health condition. When "pre-ex conditions" are covered, there is usually a stability period.

Most travel health policies will out-and-out exclude any childbirth or pregnancy complications if you travel in your last trimester. Some won't cover anything for which you were treated up to 6 months before your trip - think ulcer, back problems, depression. Some plans won't cover a medical condition for which you're already being medicated. Make sure you shop around since you'll find big differences in price and in the quality of coverage offered.

There are a bunch of other types of insurance that go into a "travel insurance package". Trip cancellation coverage protects you from losing the deposit if you have to cancel your trip because of a sickness or a death in the family, a natural disaster, jury duty, a cancelled conferenceā€¦ the list goes on. Default insurance protects your money when a tour operator or other service supplier goes out of business. It's usually sold as part of a trip cancellation policy, but not always, so make sure you specify that you want it. Lost Baggage Insurance will pay when your checked-in baggage is delayed or lost while traveling on a common carrier or from a hotel. And Rental Vehicle Damage Insurance will cover damage or loss of a rented vehicle.

Your personal property insurance may cover lost or stolen luggage. Your car insurance may provide collision and liability coverage for rented automobiles. Some credit cards offer baggage insurance. If you have a premium credit card that gives extra medical coverage automatically, make sure you read the fine print to verify what you're covered for and under what conditions. Your employer's health insurance coverage may extend to worldwide coverage. Again, read the fine print since a group plan may have dollar limitations that won't cover you properly.

While most holidays go smoothly, it makes sense to protect yourself just in case. Think about what a bummer it would be if you lost your luggage. Imagine the distress if you became ill in another country. And suppose your tour operator or airline went bust? Yes, travel insurance can be expensive, but the alternative is worse. Be a smart traveler and invest some time in making sure you're covered. Then go! Enjoy your holiday.

Seven Questions to Ask Before You Buy

  1. Does the plan have a "deductible" which you must pay for each claim?
  2. What is the amount of the policy coverage limit ($1 million? $2 million? Unlimited?)
  3. Is the insurance paid out in U.S. or Canadian dollars?
  4. Can you choose the doctor and hospital or does the insurance company choose?
  5. What pre-existing conditions are permitted and how long have they had to be stable?
  6. Does the insurance company submit the claim directly to the provincial health insurance plan or is that the insured's responsibility?
  7. What is NOT covered in the plan? (These are called "exclusions".) Are there specific exclusions that pertain to sports or other activities?

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