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The Companion Advisor: Insurance
Study fine print on medical insurance

Many Canadians hold medical insurance through their company benefits package. But few have ever actually read the fine print on that policy. When you travel out of the province or out of the country, you should know how that package will cover you and your family.

Start by digging out that little booklet about benefits you got when you joined the company. Similarly, if you have out-of country medical insurance through your "gold" credit card or other sources, you should find out the terms of the plan. You want to know who is covered, for how long and whether there are any restrictions on coverage.

Some plans have a toll-free number for information, or you may be able to find out more through your company's benefits department. Some group plans have comprehensive out-of-country coverage, by others many not cover everything you need. In this case you might consider buying a supplementary travel medical plan. If you are self-employed, or not covered at all, you should definitely buy a plan before you travel.

Ask these questions:
How long are you covered for?
Is everyone in your family covered?
What is the limit on health costs per person?
Is there a deductible that you must pay?
Will the plan transport you home for treatment?
Will you be covered if you plan to take part in sports such as hang-gliding or scuba diving? Many plans do not cover dangerous sports.
Does the plan cover treatment for pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes?
What is the procedure if you do become ill? Why do you need coverage?

Remember that your provincial health plan will only pay a fraction of the cost to stay in a U.S. or foreign hospital. Two nights in a U.S. hospital can cost over $10,000. If a patient needs surgery, air evacuation and other assistance, the health care bill could climb to over $100,000 - all of it coming out of your pocket.

Even if you are traveling to another province within Canada, your provincial plan won't pay all the costs. A travel plan will cover the cost of an ambulance or air ambulance to return you home, or the cost of emergency prescriptions.

Treatment of pre-existing conditions
It is important to study the details of coverage for pre-existing conditions, as many plans will not cover you for any illness treated or diagnosed before you left the country. You can get coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition, but you have to allow a qualified insurance expert time to write the proper policy. It can be more expensive but, as a person with a pre-existing condition, you need travel insurance more than many other vacationers. Ask about whether your partner or family will be flown home if you become ill. Consult an insurance advisor, such as Fiscal Agents, who is a member of the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (CAIFA).

Most plans offer an emergency toll-free telephone number that will guide you through a medical maze. Make sure you carry that number with you. If you do need medical treatment, they expect you to consult with them. You could forfeit some of your coverage if you go ahead without calling the toll-free number.

If you travel frequently, an annual plan can be a cost-effective alternative. Many individual plans come bundled with bells and whistles like flight cancellation insurance and baggage insurance however each new option adds to the cost of your plan. Buy only what you need and enjoy your vacation.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (CAIFA),

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