Though Canadians enjoy universal health care provided by government health insurance, that insurance may not provide all the coverage Canadians need when travelling. In fact, you may even lose some of your health care coverage when travelling to another province.
While you may be able to receive medically necessary care when you travel to another province, you may not be covered for ambulance transportation, medical evacuation, prescription drugs or, in Quebec, doctor’s visits. Your government health insurance is not transferable when you travel abroad, and medical costs in foreign hospitals can mount quickly, especially in the United States. Medical debt isn’t the kind of holiday souvenir you want; you need travel health insurance.
The Canada Health Act requires provinces to extend medically necessary care to all of their legal residents. When you travel outside of your home province in Canada, reciprocal billing agreements allow your home province to cover much of your medically necessary care in the other province. For the most part, you will not have to pay upfront for care in hospitals or doctor’s offices in Canadian provinces other than your home province, although there may be rare instances where you’re asked to pay upfront and receive reimbursements later.
However, there are several “additional benefits” that are not considered transferable from one province to another when you are travelling inside Canada. These include payment for ambulance transportation, private nurses, hospital accommodation not deemed medically necessary by a doctor (like private rooms,) prescription drugs, cosmetic procedures, chiropractic care, optometry and dentistry. You will need to purchase a private health insurance plan in order to receive insurance coverage for these services when you are travelling in Canada outside your home province.
Your Canadian health coverage is not valid abroad. Medical treatment and hospitalization abroad can be shockingly expensive — the cost of medical care in the United States, for example, can run into the thousands of dollars a day. When you purchase travel health insurance from a private insurer, you can protect yourself from acquiring crippling debt in the form of medical costs should you fall ill or be injured while travelling abroad. Many travel insurance plans also include emergency medical coverage — make sure your policy offers everything you need before purchasing it.
When you’re shopping for your travel health insurance policy, you’ll want to make sure it offers coverage for physician’s visits and prescription drugs, medical evacuation to your home province in Canada, pre-existing conditions, emergency dental care and emergency transport, like ambulance transport. You’ll also want to make sure your travel health insurance policy covers the cost of a medical escort, like a nurse or physician, to accompany you in the event of your medical evacuation.
If you will be pregnant at the time of your travel, look for a travel health insurance plan that covers the costs of premature birth and neonatal care for your child. Make sure you clearly understand your deductible costs and your responsibilities under the plan — will you have to pay up front and then be reimbursed later, or will the insurance company pay the hospital or care provider directly? Ideally, you should choose a plan that will pay the care provider directly or a plan that offers cash advances so you can pay the provider yourself and cover other costs related to your care.
Your travel health insurance plan should be valid for a period beginning before you leave Canada and extending until after your return. Choose a plan that can be renewed from abroad, just in case you’re delayed by hospitalization or other reasons. Make sure your policy offers a global, worldwide, round-the-clock contact number with operators who speak English, and get coverage for translation services in your destination country. Check when planning your trip and before you leave to make sure there are no travel advisories in place for your destination country; these could invalidate your coverage.
Your Canadian health insurance may not cover all of the medical services you could require when travelling in another province and it will likely not cover medical care at all abroad. Make sure you protect yourself with travel health insurance.
Written by David Henderson, guest contributor to Vancity Buzz, who has visited more than 30 countries, and written for dozens of travel magazines and blogs.
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