Why do I need travel insurance if I have provincial health care?

By joanne lemna | June 23, 2016

Universal health care. Three simple words that both help define what it means to be Canadian and at the same time save us from crushing debt and medical bills. Yet even as we trumpet the benefits of our social health care system many of us are totally unaware of its limits—limits that often stop at your province’s geographical borders.

But two recent high-profile cases are underscoring the need for travel medical insurance  even when travelling within Canada.

In the first a pregnant Alberta woman was vacationing in Ontario when she went into labour. It was two months before her due date and came as a complete surprise. Worse the hospital where she ended up giving birth wasn’t equipped to handle such a premature baby so both mother and baby were emergency airlifted to a larger hospital with better resources. When all was said and done when mommy and baby were both safe back at home Ontario sent her a bill for tens of thousands in medical costs. In the second incident an Ontario man became seriously ill while vacationing in the Yukon . In order to get proper medical care he had to be flown to Vancouver B.C. for treatment. A short time later he got the bill for care at a cost of $18000.

Why am I not covered?

While it may seem ridiculous the reason for this lack of universal coverage is because health care is not under the mandate of the federal government. Under the Canada Health Act each province and territory is responsible for allocating funds and delivering services. However in an effort to make the delivery of health care more seamless many of these provinces and territories have set up reciprocal billing agreements—meaning a resident from one province can access and use a hospital or medical facility in another province just by showing their health care card. Problem is these reciprocal arrangements are often complex. Different provinces set different prices for the same procedure and quite often what one province will cover another province will not. Even if everything lines up the reciprocal agreements may not be evenly split meaning that an out-of-province visit can set off a series of complicated transactions that leaves a patient holding an expensive bill that can easily creep into the tens of thousands.

What can I do?

Thankfully there is a way to prevent these expensive and unexpected medical costs: insurance. Travel medical insurance  even when travelling within Canadian borders is such an effective solution that even provincial health ministry websites suggest purchasing this insurance when travelling outside your home province or territory.  

Your insurance options

The good news is that you may already have coverage. For some the coverage may be through a workplace health  care plan for others you may get coverage through a professional association or affiliation. But even if you don’t have coverage you can easily purchase a plan through your independent insurance broker .

If you opt to purchase additional coverage just be sure to look past the cost advises Alex Bittner  president of the Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA). “Price is secondary. Coverage is primary” explains Bittner. “Very often” says Bittner “we need to become smarter consumers. Everyone should have a carefree holiday and not worry about unexpected medical expenses and yet accidents can happen to anyone at anytime.” With travel medical insurance you make a small investment to offset what could be a catastrophic cost.

Since the cost of travel insurance can vary significantly—from $1 per day for a healthy 20-year-old to more than $40 per day for a 90-year-old—it’s important to call and talk to an  independent insurance broker . Your broker won’t just take into consideration your current age and health but also what type of travelling you’re doing and whether or not you plan to take additional trips in the near future. That’s because there are plans for those who travel frequently that are usually more cost-effective than purchasing a per trip coverage option.