Will Your Travel Medical Insurance Really Cover You?

A few years ago, a good friend of mine had a brain aneurysm that nearly cost him his life. While the road to recovery has not been easy, I’m happy to report that he’s doing quite well these days and is able to be there to for his wife and two young kids.

I was very excited to see him post on social media recently that after four very tough years, they were going on their first family vacation to a resort in Mexico for two weeks. But that same post got me thinking. What would happen if he had a medical event while in Mexico? Would he qualify for any type of travel medical insurance?

After reaching out to him, I found out that he had been told that the optional travel insurance that was offered with their vacation package would be just fine, so he had planned to use that. A quick scan through the fine print told me that he would in fact not be protected at all. Fortunately in this case, we were able to catch this serious risk in time and found an insurer who would provide suitable protection that covered his previous medical conditions.

There are far too many Canadians who pack their bags and head outside the country without realizing how much financial risk they are being exposed to without proper medical insurance. It does not take long to rack up a $1 million hospital tab and the inability to pay this bill could lead many families to bankruptcy. Many of these travelers have travel health insurance plans in place and incorrectly think they’re protected.

The single biggest risk group I see is those that choose to travel while pregnant. For example, a few years ago there was a couple from Saskatchewan that decided to go to Hawaii for one last trip before their first baby arrived.

The wife was about 25 weeks pregnant and their insurance policy stated that a pregnant woman is covered for out of country travel up to the 32-week mark. They even went so far as to consult with their family doctor who assured her that she was ok to travel still before they left. Their doctor however, could not speak on behalf of their insurance provider.

While they did have insurance, they neglected to read the fine print. The same fine print that exists in every major travel insurance policy that I can find. While the expectant mother was possibly covered, a policy I read from the same company stated that “If a dependent child is born while the child’s mother is outside of her province of residence, the dependent child will not be insured with respect to that trip”.

In this case of this Saskatchewan family, the mother gave birth to a 9-week premature baby while in Hawaii and their new daughter spent almost two months in the neo-natal intensive care unit before she was strong enough to fly home. Their total bill was just under $1 million.

This type of risk is not just for travel to the United States either. An Australian couple visiting Vancouver a couple of years ago had a premature baby at just 26 weeks gestation and their 90 days of care costs them almost $750,000 in our “cheaper” medical system.

For anyone who’s pregnant, I strongly advise against any foreign travel beyond the four-month mark. Sure a premature birth may not happen to you but then again, it might.

The point I’m trying to make is that you really need to understand what your travel insurance will and won’t cover and if you’re pregnant or have a pre-existing condition, travelling away from home might be a lot riskier than you think. Before you pack your bags for “one last trip”, take a moment to consider how much it might really cost.