What to consider when purchasing travel insurance
By Jessica Fullerton LL.B | October 2019
Whether you are a snowbird travelling down south for the winter, crossing the border to shop, hopping the pond to spend a week in Europe or making the long flight to Asia or Australia, obtaining appropriate travel insurance should be a key component of your travel planning.
Unfortunately, when we are in the midst of organizing a trip, taking the time to make sure that we have sufficient travel insurance can feel optional, unnecessary and is far less exciting than booking that wine tour or bicycle excursion.
Having worked in a legal capacity with individuals injured abroad or with tourists injured in Ontario, I have observed how valuable comprehensive travel insurance is. This is particularly the case for travel medical insurance, in the event that you or a family member are seriously injured while away from home.
Here are six considerations to keep in mind when purchasing travel insurance:
Some credit cards provide travel insurance, but how much? For what? In what circumstances? As a first step, it is important to determine the scope of any travel insurance provided by your credit card(s). It varies considerably. Depending on the credit card, they may provide for some, or all, of the following: car rental insurance, luggage insurance, trip cancellation /interruption insurance, repatriation, medical evacuation, travel medical insurance and/or travel accident insurance.
The second step is to investigate when your credit card will provide coverage. For example, some cards put a limit on how long the trip can be. If you are away more consecutive days in a row than the policy allows, you will not be covered if something happens. Similarly, for some cards, coverage is only provided if the majority of the trip expenses were purchased with that card. For other cards, you only need to have purchased the airfare or transportation with your card to trigger the travel insurance offered. It is crucial to know and understand these limitations in advance and prior to departure.
Do you have coverage through your employment? Some people may have travel insurance through group benefits provided by their employer. It is important to understand fully what is provided, the limits of the coverage, whether it applies to family members travelling with you and to understand if further coverage is needed.
Purchasing additional travel insurance. Often it will be the case that additional travel insurance is required. Two key categories to keep in mind are:
Travel medical coverage — covers the cost of medical costs incurred abroad. Hospitalization alone can be thousands of dollars per day, plus the cost of any medical investigation, tests or treatment. While $25,000 or $100,000 sounds like a lot of coverage, for any significant injuries, medical costs can quickly and radically exceed those limits and higher limits are generally a good idea.
Emergency medical coverage — covers the cost to transport you to a hospital or appropriate medical care as well as the cost to return you home, on an emergency basis or otherwise. Not all plans cover the cost for family members or companions to travel with you, so it is important to confirm that is included. Additionally, if you are a parent, some plans also include the cost of childcare in the event that you are hospitalized.
Accuracy and precision in completing the application for travel insurance is crucial. Purchasing travel insurance can be a quick process. Many of us complete the application online through a series of clicks on our phone or computer. The policy is then confirmed, and no one verifies the accuracy of the information you included. The insurers take no steps to verify the information unless and until you make a claim under the policy. Once a claim is made, they will review the application and your prior medical history with a fine-tooth comb and if there is anything which they consider to be a misrepresentation or a failure to disclose, they will decline coverage.
Depending on the insurer, the coverage sought and your age, you may be required to answer a medical health questionnaire as a part of the application. You must be precise in providing your medical history and reporting any “pre-existing conditions.” The definitions vary, but generally, these are conditions known or diagnosed prior to your departure for your trip. Under some policies, they may not increase the cost (or otherwise complicate your application) if your condition has been medically stable for some time, but they must be disclosed.
It is crucial to be upfront and accurate in all representations made. To do this, you need to understand your medical history and overall health and to carefully read the entirety of any medical questionnaire; including the definition of various terms that may form part of the questionnaire. As an example, sometimes there are questions about prior treatment for various conditions. It is not your definition of what constitutes prior “treatment” that matters. It is what the policy defines “treatment” to include. It may be that a single test or investigation qualifies under the policy as prior “treatment.”
If you are not accurate and precise in providing your medical history, you may have the illusion of travel insurance, but when you need to claim under the policy, coverage may be denied. Under most policies, denials can occur even if the misrepresentation is unintended and even if it is unrelated to the actual injury or medical event you experience abroad.
Know the exclusions to your travel insurance. Many travel policies will also include general exclusions. These are pre-determined circumstances in which there will be no coverage. The exclusions vary depending on the company and the policy. Examples include pregnancy or childbirth after the 31st week of pregnancy or injuries sustained from high risk activities. It is important to know and understand all of the exclusions in your policy.
Family and friends visiting Canada should have their own travel insurance. Sometimes family or friends travel to Ontario to visit us. Many of us mistakenly assume that because Canada has universal healthcare, it applies to everyone. In fact, while non-residents injured in Canada will receive medical care if needed, it will generally be accompanied by a hefty medical bill. Not only will all services be charged for, the rates for medical services charged to non-residents are higher than for residents. So, if you have visitors travelling from abroad to stay with or visit you, encouraging them to have comprehensive medical coverage is also a good idea.
Obtaining travel insurance requires research, knowledge and precision. Despite the work involved, having tailored and comprehensive travel insurance provides peace of mind in the event of small disruptions in your travel and can be invaluable if you or a family member are seriously injured while abroad.
Jessica Fullerton is an associate lawyer at Nelligan O’Brien Payne and a member of the firm’s Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Group. Jessica has extensive experience in assisting individuals and families injured in car, pedestrian and cycling accidents. She also assists individuals with insurance related claims.