Once COVID-19 hit full force this spring, Toronto residents Michael Schneider and his wife, Debra, cancelled their plans to see their grandchildren in Calgary and Atlanta, Ga.
While the Canada-U.S. border is still closed to non-essential travel, the Schneiders were able to reschedule their Calgary visit for late July. Along with their airline tickets, they made sure to purchase interprovincial travel insurance.
“We were concerned because of COVID, since we’re retired and no longer have insurance through work,” said Schneider.
They had purchased their tickets with a credit card, so Schneider first checked to see if the medical insurance the card provided included coverage for COVID-19. The bank that issued the card indicated it would, but Schneider wanted to be sure so he contacted the insurer directly and discovered that the bank was incorrect; COVID-19 wasn’t covered.
Interestingly, even prior to the pandemic, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) did not cover all out-of-province medical expenses, but it wasn’t something most travellers considered. According to the Ontario government’s website:
“When you show your valid Ontario health card in another Canadian province or territory, you will be covered for some of the same services you’re covered for in Ontario including:
- physician services (e.g. visit to a walk-in clinic)
- services provided in a public hospital (e.g. emergency, diagnostic, laboratory). Any service or treatment you receive in another Canadian province or territory must be medically necessary for it to be covered by OHIP.”
In response to the Star’s query about COVID-19 coverage, the Ministry of Health responded:
“In keeping with the requirements of the Canada Health Act, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan provides coverage for insured physician and insured hospital services when Ontario residents are temporarily in another province or territory or moving to another province or territory and serving an interprovincial waiting period before coverage takes effect. This coverage does not extend to other services such as ambulance transport, home care, prescription drugs, or additional services that may be funded when the patient is in Ontario.
“Reciprocal hospital billing arrangements exist between all provinces and territories to facilitate payment of these services. For insured physician services, all provinces and territories, except Quebec, participate in a reciprocal medical billing arrangement. If an insured Ontario resident is billed directly for an out-of-province hospital or physician service, they may submit the receipts to the ministry for consideration of reimbursement.”
Schneider and his wife decided to take no chances, especially in these uncertain times. They are members of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), so they looked into CAA’s travel medical insurance and discovered that CAA offers a yearly plan for travel within Canada that includes COVID-19 coverage.
Elliott Silverstein, the director of government relations for CAA South Central Ontario, confirmed that their emergency medical coverage plan includes coverage for COVID-19. Orion Travel Insurance underwrites CAA policies nationwide, so wherever in Canada you purchase one, you obtain the same coverage.
“People have the perception that when they leave the province, they are fully covered,” Silverstein said. “Ontarians are partially covered, but in the more serious cases, the extremes may not be covered by OHIP.
“Travel medical insurance should be part of your tool kit. We’re trying to reinforce the idea that it isn’t just for out-of-country travel.”
Trip-specific insurance is also available. The cost for any of these plans depends on length of travel and other factors.
“We’re trying to make sure we provide products that benefit those who need or want to travel,” Silverstein said.
Interprovincial travel insurance is something that all insurers should promote, say the administrators at Blue Cross of Ontario and Blue Cross of Quebec, even if a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.
“People think they are well covered by their provincial health-care programs, but a lot of areas are not covered at all,” said Josiane Cousineau, vice-president of marketing and public relations for both Ontario Blue Cross and Quebec Blue Cross. “The main issues that crop up out of province are ambulances, prescription drugs and specialists’ fees. Big bills can build up if you’re hospitalized.”
Cousineau says the pandemic has provided a good opportunity to educate the people in the two provinces about the value of interprovincial travel insurance.
“During this crisis, we want to make sure that people understand the importance of being covered,” she said.
The Blue Cross emergency medical care plans include coverage for new cases of COVID-19 if — and it’s a large if — the insured hasn’t had symptoms for the past three months for those 54 and under or for the past six months for those 55 and over.
“We want to remind people that they are taking a risk when travelling during the pandemic,” Cousineau said.
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Of course, in addition to the health risks of travelling, it’s important for visitors to be sure they’re welcome. Many provinces are either forbidding outsiders from visiting or requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival; be sure to determine the provincial rules and regulations before making any reservations or commitments.
Despite having coverage, Schneider and his wife will be exhibiting caution when they board the airplane for Calgary.
“We’ll be wearing N95 masks just in case,” he said.
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