“the sole responsibility of the individual”

Insurance companies are profit making ventures.  They do not willingly pay out questionable claims and most provide a multi-page booklet outlining the grey areas.  If you were “totally covered” there would be no need for 65 pages of explanation.

Canadian snowbirds and winter vacationers are being warned to have proof of private travel health insurance in place prior to leaving for any trips to the United States, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the Caribbean this winter.

The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) says that private insurance is essential for all winter destinations, particularly the U.S. where soaring health costs and uncertainty about the future of health care reform is forcing many economically-stressed hospitals to demand up-front deposits or direct payment arrangements of patients who cannot prove they have insurance coverage.

David Hartman, president of THIA, says: “The relentless increase in health care costs world-wide makes international travel insurance absolutely essential, even for one-day trips, as provincial health insurance reimbursements for out-of-country medical services don’t come close to covering foreign hospital bills that can total thousands of dollars per day.” He adds that even Cuba now requires all foreign visitors to have proof of travel insurance adequate to cover any medical services they might require in that country.

A little about Travel Warnings

Travel Warnings are there to protect you, but even the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade concedes that the decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. That being said, the warning represents the Government of Canada’s official advice. The warning may recommend that Canadians avoid “all travel”, or in both Mexican examples, “non-essential travel”. In some cases, it will even recommend that travellers leave the country or region all together.

What happens if a Travel Warning is issued after you’ve already booked a trip?

It depends. Are you still planning to go despite the Government of Canada’s recommendation? Did you buy Trip Cancellation and Interruption travel insurance?

If you’ve decided to ignore the Travel Warning and are able to get to your holiday destination despite it, make sure you read the fine print of the travel insurance policy you’ve bought, or are planning to buy. There is a chance you won’t be covered.

Travel insurance when you ignore a Travel Warning

Travel insurance is intended to offer you protection for unexpected and unforeseen events. If you choose to ignore a Travel Warning then it could be viewed that you’re expecting the unexpected and depending on the policy, you may not be covered.

Read the exclusions in the policy. A benefit does not have to be payed out if it is determined that the costs were incurred due to something that was specifically excluded. Exclusions vary by policy. For example, consider Travel Warnings. If mentioned as an exclusion, some policy wordings are general in nature, while others are very specific. The following two samples illustrate this point:

“When you travel to a country after such time that a travel advisory has been issued by the Canadian government recommending that Canadians do not travel to such country, or to specific regions within such country.”

“Sickness, injury or medical condition you suffer or contract in a specific country, region or area for which the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Canadian Government has issued a travel advisory or formal notice, before your departure date, advising Canadians not to travel to that specific country, region or area. If the Canadian Government issues a travel advisory or formal notice to leave that specific country, region or area, after your departure date, your coverage for sickness, injury or medical condition is limited to a period of 10 days from the date the advisory was issued, or to a period that is reasonably necessary to safely evacuate the country, region or area. In this exclusion “sickness, injury or medical condition” means any sickness, injury or medical condition that is attributable to the reason for which the travel advisory or formal notice was issued or complications arising from such “sickness, injury or medical condition”.

In a nutshell, it is your responsibility to keep up-to-date on Travel Warnings, and if you choose to ignore a warning then you may not not be covered while away on holiday. And this doesn’t just apply to emergency medical coverage. It could also apply to your Trip Cancellation and Interruption coverage if the warning was issued prior to your policy purchase and travel dates.

Not sure where to find the Travel Reports? They can be found at the site for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

Didn’t buy travel insurance?

Without travel insurance, you’re at the mercy of your airline or tour operator. Consider what happened only a day after the government issued its warning about Mexico on April 27th, 2009. On April 28th, all customers of Transat (which includes Air Transat, Transat Holidays and Nolitours), Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, Sunquest Vacations, and WestJet and WestJet Vacations learned that their trips were effectively cancelled or postponed. While some of the companies offered full refunds if you decided to cancel (without penalty), others required that you simply reschedule your trip to a later date, choose a new destination, or get a travel credit for use at a later date.

Every year, more Canadians are discovering that places like Parksville, although not as tropical as some locations, offers safety and security that may very well outweigh any perceived downsides as a vacation destination.  This is a great country with an enviable economy.  Spending our dollars inside Canada will help keep it that way.

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