Don't let 'hospital sticker shock' ruin your vacation

If a serious medical problem doesn't knock you over when travelling, the hospital bill surely will. Outside Canada, even quick procedures can be expensive – and overnight stays, exorbitant – yet a recent survey revealed that only 65 per cent of Canadian respondents said they had supplementary medical insurance when they last travelled.

“We were shocked to discover that a three-hour emergency room visit in Florida that resulted in a simple antibiotic prescription for my husband, was accompanied by a $7,000 price tag,” says Adrienne Sabado. “Happily, we learned this after the fact when my insurance company sent me a statement showing that the file was closed. A family vacation with three young children is expensive enough without a surprise bill that costs more than the trip itself.”

Travel health insurance takes the financial pain out of unexpected medical issues, say specialists in this field – and this is particularly important for any travel to the United States which has the world's most expensive medical system.

“Today's smart travellers are increasingly packing the right kind of insurance alongside toiletries and towels,” says Alex Bittner, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA). “Everyone deserves to have a carefree vacation and comprehensive coverage is a key ingredient for a worry-free holiday. Although the Sabado family's experience with out-of-country healthcare is not unusual, it was great that they had travel insurance to look after the bill.”

Bittner recommends that travellers check their credit card and employee programs before investigating travel insurance options. The time it takes to call your human resources advisor or your credit card company can be well worth the effort as their insurance plans may include a variety of insurance benefits.

Once you know what kind of coverage you have, you'll also know what kind of coverage you need. To get you started, take a look at THIA's golden rules for buying supplementary insurance:

• Know your health and contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions

• Know your trip. Is it business or pleasure? Are you snowbird? Will you be visiting more than one country?

• Know your policy. Take the time to read through and understand the policy and call the insurance provider if you have any questions.

Bittner emphasizes that virtually all travel insurers in Canada provide at least $1 million of coverage, usually pay foreign hospitals and doctors directly for covered services, and offer plans for all ages and even for people in less than perfect health.


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