Debunking the Top 7 Travel Insurance Myths

We're setting the record straight about the most common travel medical insurance myths...

Top 7 Travel Medical Insurance Myths Debunked

Last Updated: December 5, 2023

When it comes to Canadian travel insurance coverage, an overwhelming amount of misinformation is being circulated through websites, social media and even friends and family.

Unfortunately, all of this conflicting and inaccurate information has resulted in confusion about travel insurance coverage among Canadian snowbirds and other travellers, which can have serious negative implications when it comes to cost, coverage, treatment and claims.

At Snowbird Advisor Insurance, one of our primary goals is to educate travellers about the intricacies of travel insurance.

To help set the record straight, we have debunked some of the most common myths and misconceptions about Canadian travel insurance below so travellers can get the right coverage at the right price and avoid potential pitfalls - regardless of where they obtain their travel insurance coverage:

MYTH #1: My Provincial Government Health Insurance Plan (GHIP) will cover my expenses if I get sick or injured while travelling.

Some Canadian travellers are under the impression that they don’t need to obtain travel medical insurance because their Provincial government health insurance plan (i.e. OHIP in Ontario, MSP in British Columbia, AHCIP in Alberta, etc…) will cover their expenses if they become sick or injured while travelling.

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Provincial GHIP generally only covers a small percentage of emergency medical expenses incurred while travelling.

For example, for typical emergency medical treatment received in the U.S., which can cost upwards of $10,000 USD per day for a hospital stay, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) would only cover approximately 2% - 5% of the cost, leaving the traveller on the hook personally to cover the other 95% - 97%.

In addition, GHIP generally doesn’t cover related costs such as air ambulance, ambulance, prescription drugs and transportation back to your home province.

You can learn more about What Canadian Travellers Need to Know About Provincial Health Insurance Coverage here.

MYTH #2: I don’t need travel insurance if I am only travelling within Canada.

While most provinces in Canada – with the exception of Quebec – have reciprocal agreements that will cover the cost of emergency medical treatment when you’re travelling in another province, it’s important to be aware that every province has different rules with respect to what they will cover and limits on how much they will cover, and some expenses aren’t covered at all.

The result is that there are often gaps in coverage that can leave travellers who receive emergency medical treatment in another province personally on the hook for thousands - or even tens of thousands of dollars - in expenses that aren’t covered by GHIP.

And although your exposure for out-of-pocket expenses is often much lower than it would be if you received treatment in the U.S. or another international destination, significant financial losses are still a very real possibility.

Accordingly, it is highly advisable for Canadians travelling outside their home province within Canada to obtain travel medical insurance.

Fortunately, because claim amounts are generally much lower for domestic travel than international travel, insurance premiums for travel exclusively within Canada are significantly less expensive - sometimes up to 50% less.

You can learn more about The Need for Travel Medical Insurance Coverage While Travelling in Canada here.

MYTH #3: My friend got a lower price on travel insurance from their provider, so their provider must have the lowest prices for everyone

Just because a friend or family member received the lowest premium on travel insurance from a particular provider, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will also get the lowest premium from that provider.

This is because travel insurance companies evaluate risk factors like age, medical conditions and trip duration to help determine their premiums, and every insurance company evaluates each type of risk differently, which can result in very different premiums based on a travellers unique set of circumstances.

For Example:

Two travellers are both 65 years old and travelling for 90 days, but they each have a different medical condition.

Both travellers compare travel insurance quotes from Company A and Company B.

Based on their different medical conditions, one traveller gets a lower premium from Company A and the other traveller gets a lower premium from Company B.

In this case, Insurance Companies A and B have assessed the risk of each traveller’s respective medical condition differently and priced their premiums accordingly. The same principle would apply to other risk factors like age and trip duration.

The bottom line is, no single insurance provider offers the lowest premium for every traveller in every situation. The only way travellers can truly find out which provider offers the lowest premiums for their unique set of circumstances is to shop around and compare premiums from multiple providers.

In addition, when comparing premiums travellers need to make sure they are comparing apples to apples with respect to coverage benefits. Buying a travel insurance policy based on price alone can be dangerous, as any money you save up-front could end up costing you much more down the road if it doesn’t cover you when you actually need it.

You can learn more about What Canadian Travellers Need to Know About Travel Insurance Prices here.

MYTH #4: I don’t have to disclose a medical condition on my travel insurance medical questionnaire if I don’t think it is relevant.

When applying for travel medical insurance, it is essential to answer any medical questions truthfully and accurately - it’s not up to you to decide which medical conditions and medications are relevant.

Failure to fully and accurately disclose your medical history can be grounds for your insurance company to deny your claim, even if the claim is unrelated to a medical condition you failed to disclose. In fact, failure to answer medical questions fully and accurately is the number one reason travel medical insurance claims are denied.

It doesn’t matter if your failure to disclose is intentional or unintentional, which means that even an honest mistake may result in your policy being voided or your claim being denied. So, if you’re uncertain about your medical conditions or have any questions, make sure you speak to your doctor before submitting your travel insurance application.

If you are taking a medication to control a medical condition, remember that you still have the underlying medical condition and need to disclose it. For example, if you have high blood pressure and the condition is being controlled by medication, you still need to disclose that you have high blood pressure.

And if you are tempted to intentionally provide inaccurate or incomplete information in the hopes of getting a lower premium or coverage for an ineligible medical condition – don’t. If you ever make a claim, your insurance company has the right to review your medical records and will become aware of the missing or inaccurate information, giving the grounds to deny your claim.

You can learn more about Travel Insurance Disclosure Requirements here.

MYTH #5: I don’t have to notify my travel insurance provider if there are any changes to my health after I purchase my policy.

Many travellers aren’t aware that they have an ongoing obligation to notify their travel insurance provider of any changes to their health after they purchase their policy and prior to travelling.

If you experience ANY change to your health or medical situation prior to departing on your trip, contact your travel insurance provider as soon as possible to inform them of the change, as it may affect your eligibility, premiums or stability requirements.

Failing to disclose changes to your health or medical situation after you purchase your policy and prior to departing on your trip may result in your claims being denied.

And remember, any changes to your health really does mean any changes, including:

  • increases and decreases in medication dosages
  • starting or stopping medications
  • having diagnostic tests for potential changes to existing medical conditions or new medical conditions, even if those changes/conditions are not yet diagnosed.

Changes to your medical condition after you purchase your policy and prior to departing on your trip can affect your coverage in a number of different ways, including:

  • No change in your premiums or coverage;
  • An increase in your premium;
  • Certain medical conditions being excluded from coverage; or
  • Cancellation of your policy and a refund of your premium if the new condition is severe enough that your insurer won’t cover it.

While some of these outcomes may be very disappointing, it is better to know where your coverage stands before you leave on your trip rather than face a potential financial disaster by have your claim denied after the fact.

You can learn more about What You Need to Do After You Purchase Your Travel Insurance and Before You Leave on Your Trip here.

MYTH #6: All of my pre-existing medical conditions will be covered under my travel insurance policy.

Depending on the type of travel insurance policy you have, some of your pre-existing medical conditions may not be covered under your policy due to “stability” requirements.

Most travel medical insurance policies contain what is commonly referred to as a “stability” clause.

These clauses require your pre-existing medical conditions to be “stable” for a defined period of time prior to the date you leave on your trip. The stability period varies from policy to policy, but is often 90, 180 or even 365 days leading up to your departure date.

If there are any changes to one of your pre-existing medical conditions during the stability period, that condition will be excluded from coverage, meaning your policy will not cover any expenses you incur that are related to that condition while travelling.

This including some changes you may not think of such as starting or stopping a medication, increasing or decreasing the dose of a medication or seeing a doctor or receiving diagnostic testing related to a potentially new medical condition, even if that condition has not yet been diagnosed.

It’s also very important to be aware that under a stability clause, any medical treatment for a condition related to an excluded condition would also be excluded from coverage.

For example, if a traveller has diabetes which does not meet the stability requirements of their policy, treatment for diabetes would clearly not be covered. However, if they were to have a heart attack while travelling and the heart attack could be linked to their diabetes, it is possible that treatment costs for the heart attack would also not be covered.

To avoid potential issues related to stability clauses, travellers should consider a “Personalized” travel medical insurance policy that covers pre-existing medical conditions with no stability requirement.

You can learn more about Why You Should Consider a Travel Insurance Policy With NO Stability Period here.

MYTH #7: I don’t need to contact my travel insurance provider before seeking medical treatment while travelling.

Whenever possible, travellers should contact their travel medical insurance provider before seeing medical treatment.

All travel medical insurance policies include language that requires you to contact your travel insurance provider’s 24/7 Emergency Assistance Centre prior to obtaining medical assistance.

Your policy will also likely include language stating that if it is impossible to contact your provider’s Emergency Assistance Center prior to obtaining medical treatment, you or some on your behalf must contact your provider as soon as possible. This would apply in cases where urgent care is required, for example, if the you are having a heart attack or are injured in a car accident.

The exact wording of these clauses will differ depending on your provider, but it’s important to comply with these requirements, as failing to contact your provider in accordance with the terms of your policy may result in some or all of your medical treatment costs not being covered under your policy.

There are many reasons why travel insurance providers require you to contact them before seeking treatment, including:

  • Directing you to treatment providers: Travel insurance providers have a roster of preferred hospitals, clinics and physicians and whenever possible will direct you to one of these facilities for treatment to help ensure the quality of care you receive, that the treatment provider is appropriate for the treatment you require and to allow them to better coordinate and manage your care.
  • Arranging direct billing with your treatment provider: In many cases, your insurance provider will be able to arrange direct billing for your claim with one of their preferred treatment providers so you won’t need to incur any out-of-pocket medical expenses. Otherwise, you may need to cover these costs out of pocket and seek reimbursement from your insurance provider later.
  • Simplifying the claims process: If your insurance provider coordinates your care and treatment from the beginning, they can usually obtain most of the necessary documents and information directly from your treatment provider, which can help speed up and simplify your claim.
  • Informing you if your treatment is covered: Contacting your provider before seeking treatment allows them to inform you if the treatment you are seeking is covered by your policy and if there are any coverage limits or restrictions prior to receiving treatment.
  • Determining if your treatment is “medically necessary”: Emergency travel medical insurance only covers treatments that are considered “medically necessary”. For example, your insurance company may not recognize some diagnostic, medical and laboratory procedures as "emergency" benefits or necessary under your circumstances. If you receive treatments that are not considered to be medically necessary by your insurer, they may not be covered under your policy, and you may have to pay for them personally. Contacting your provider before seeking treatment can help reduce this risk.

You can learn more about Why You Should Contact Your Travel Insurance Provider Before Seeking Medical Treatment here.

Disclaimer: The material provided in the Snowbird Advisor Insurance Learning Centre is for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute insurance, legal, financial or other advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you require such advice, you should speak with a qualified professional to assist you.