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Travel health insurance

During a recent long-weekend getaway in Cape Cod, Mass., I awoke to find my eyes glued shut thanks to a nasty eye infection. It was off to a local clinic where I forked $350 for a three-minute appointment and antibiotic. I was bitter, but I was also stupid.

My impromptu get-a-way was so impromptu I hadn't bothered with travel medical insurance. Lesson learned.

Of course it could have been a whole lot worse. There are plenty of horror stories about people who fall ill or are injured while travelling and find themselves with outrageous medical bills -- all because they didn't buy travel medical insurance.

With 52 per cent of Canadians intending to take a vacation outside the country this winter, travellers need to understand provincial health insurance pays only a small portion of out-of-country and limited out-of-province medical expenses.

Statistics provided by RBC Insurance reveal:

  • 55 per cent of Canadian travellers never purchase travel insurance for trips within Canada
  • 37 per cent of Canadian travellers never purchase travel insurance when going to the United States
  • 24 per cent of Canadian travellers don't purchase travel insurance for overseas travel
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"Canadians love to travel and any traveller who leaves their home province needs to have emergency medical insurance," says Martha Turnbull, head of assistance and claims at RBC Insurance. Having the right insurance and support can help ease a potentially fraught situation.

For instance, if a family of four is in Florida for seven days and a child fractures his femur, without insurance, the child would most likely have to spend 19 days in the hospital at a cost of $324,103. With RBC, their Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Travel Insurance premium would be about $292.

Who foots the bill?
According to a recent study by BMO Insurance, only half of those surveyed recognize that those travelling outside of Canada without purchasing medical insurance are themselves responsible for the bulk of expenses.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada has this advice:

"If you plan to go abroad -- even on a day trip to the United States -- you should purchase the best travel insurance you can afford in order to avoid large expenses, such as the cost of hospitalization or medical treatment outside of Canada. Your Canadian insurance is almost certainly not valid outside Canada... A single accident could result in years of debt for those who are not prepared."

Medical expenses can lead to financial ruin
The BMO Insurance study reveals that many Canadians don't have a realistic understanding of the true costs of treatment in other countries. For instance:

  • 80 per cent believe the cost of treating pneumonia in the United States is $10,000 or less: the bill can run as high as $66,000
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-- Posted October 31, 2012
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