Snowbirds, business travelers, and Canadian adventurers of all sorts are well-versed in the importance of having insurance when traveling to the United States — but what about when traveling within Canada?
It falls into a bit of a grey area because, like so many Canadians, they are under the impression that their provincial healthcare plan is their safety net should any accidents happen. While that may be the case for a number of scenarios, every once and a while we hear a story surface on the news that gives us reason to pause and rethink everything we once knew about out-of-province travel insurance within Canada – and why it is critical to have something else protecting you.
It’s a cautionary tale when traveling between provinces
In a recent CBC News article, Ontario resident Madelyn MacNeill visited her family in Nova Scotia this past summer when she had to be rushed for emergency surgery for two herniated disks in her back. When she recovered, she was startled to find out she was billed almost $13,000 for ground and air ambulance transportation.
An extremely shocking situation to occur after the fact, but it falls under the specific language in The Health Canada Act.
Ambulances are not universally covered under The Canada Health Act
All provinces charge non-residents more for ambulance services – even more for air ambulances – that wouldn’t be covered under Ontario’s provincial health coverage.
“The only things that were covered in that legislation that would be insured were things that happened inside a hospital and services that are performed by a doctor.”
Anything like prescription drugs and other drugs given outside a hospital home-care services fees charged by private hospitals or facilities, diagnostic or laboratory services outside of a public hospital, or long-term care is not covered by OHIP.
Some services are covered – others are not
According to the Interprovincial Billing Agreement, the host province agrees to cover the cost of any medically necessary service provided and subsequently bill the home province for reimbursement. However, your provincial health insurance is not required to cover any treatment or medications given outside your home province. Hospital and physician services will likely be covered (except for Quebec), but additional services, such as an ambulance, hospital transfer, or transportation back to your home province, are not.
When you look at this from public health and a patient perspective, there has to be some way to get the ambulance fees removed and rework the model here so people aren’t afraid of taking an ambulance because of the invoice they will face.
It might be a good idea to purchase COVID-19 coverage
Provincial health insurance may not cover all of the medical costs associated with a health emergency. Out-of-pocket costs might be affordable in a couple of hundred dollars, but if the emergency requires an air ambulance, it can result in tens of thousands of dollars – which was the case for Madelyn MacNeill.
As travel starts to open up slowly, several insurance providers who once stopped offering this coverage have now resumed offering their COVID-19 medical coverage along with their regular travel insurance plans.
What should you do when traveling out of province?
Many Canadians would never imagine they would need travel health insurance while traveling to another province in Canada. And in an age where we are now hyper-aware of our health and coverage, here are a few things to consider if you are traveling out of Ontario, even for a few days.
- Check the provisions and wording of your policy, and ask the necessary questions of your carrier before assuming you have complete coverage,
- Understand if you have a maximum cap on medical coverage for emergencies through your plan,
- If you are hospitalized for a length of time, make sure you have transportation costs for bringing your loved ones to you or returning your children home to be cared for.
- It is imperative to keep your provincial health card with you when traveling because it is proof that your provincial plan is insuring you. Make sure it is up to date with your current information and is not expired.
This is a classic example of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Protect yourself and your loved ones by making sure you take a critical look at your coverage and ensure you have the right safety nets in place.