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Some thoughts on the big health insurance story

DSCN0683Situation with Canadian couple that faces $1 million bill for premature birth of baby in Hawaii brings up an important issue, which is that half of all Canadians don’t buy travel health insurance. I’m guilty, too. But I won’t be in the future.

The story in the Toronto Star the other day about the Saskatchewan couple who gave birth to a premature baby in Hawaii and now face a potential medical bill of $1 million is incredible. And very sad.

It remains to be seen what will happen. I hope the insurance company will cut them some slack. But from all accounts it seems they’re on pretty good legal footing.

It’s tragic. But what should be disconcerting to most of us Canadian travellers is that few of us even bother with travel health insurance.

I spoke today with Adrienne Simic, spokesperson for the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada. She told me 95 per cent of travel insurance claims are settled, so it seems like most folks don’t have any problem. The vast majority don’t, in fact.

But there’s a problem. She also told me that only 47 per cent of Canadian buy travel health insurance. And that, of those, only 40 per cent actually read the damned policies. Which is a huge issue.

I admit, I haven’t been buying insurance for the many trips I’ve taken since I left the Toronto Star. I was covered by them as an employee, but I’m now a freelancer and really should take out policies when I go places. I think I’m covered to some degree by my credit card and from my wife’s place of employment, but even an allegedly smart guy like me, or at least a guy who knows something about travel, doesn’t buy the policies he should. So it’s no surprise other people are just as dumb.

Not to sound like a shill for the insurance industry, because I’m not. I have no connection with any insurance company except the folks I pay (a lot) for my house and car and life insurance. But I think we all should be more diligent about this.

I mean, if we can afford $1,000 for a trip to Cuba surely we can manage a few extra bucks for insurance. Most of us will never be hit with million dollar bills upon checking out of a hospital, but an insurance policy is a pretty good investment if you want to avoid nasty surprises.

Part of the issue in this case I keep hearing about is that people say the woman who gave birth had been told by her doctor that she was okay to travel. Maybe the doctor said that. Maybe he or she gave her a mild warning. But that’s not the point. The doctor is an MD; not an insurance broker.

It’s fine for a medical person to say I can travel, but it’s still up to me to buy a good policy that will cover me.

Simic told me key factors include the “pre-existing condition” clauses in most travel health insurance policies, and also the “exclusions.” Read the fine print carefully, she said, and be sure to tell your insurance people about ANY condition you might have. If you conceal, say, a heart problem, you might be in deep doo doo if you have a heart attack in Ecuador, or even Europe.

“We sometimes say “Know your health, know your trip and know your policy,” Simic told me.

Reading an insurance policy is about as interesting as watching a replay of the other night’s Toronto Maple Leafs 9-2 loss to the Predators. Most of us would rather stick pins in our eyes. But reading your policy is good advice.

Mostly, it’s important you take the time to buy the policy, right?

It’s like the Seinfeld episode with the rental car. It’s one thing to “take” the reservation for the rental car, but the important thing is to “hold” the reservation.

In this case, it’s one thing to talk about a policy. It’s another one to research and buy the policy. And that’s the most important part of the policy; the buying.

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