Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Extra health insurance well worth price

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At this time of year, the purchase of long-term insurance for those planning to be away for much of the remainder of the winter season is common.

There are frequent but similar questions asked about the advisability of different kinds of coverage, including whether to carry insurance at all, counting on Manitoba Health to cover any number of out-of-country occurrences.

I hope the following answer to a reader will satisfy a number of concerns readers have expressed.

QUESTION: I hope you can help clear up the confusing advice we have been receiving about travel medical insurance. For the first time, we will be staying for several months in Mexico.

We are staying for four months, so wanted to purchase coverage for the whole period.

However, we were told that coverage for medical insurance was only available on one-month, four-month or six-month plans.

We have also been told, including by someone from Manitoba Health, that we don't even need to purchase extra coverage as long as we go to a Mexican hospital and not an American one.

Several people who travel yearly to Mexico confirmed that extended coverage is not needed and they have the experience to prove it.

They have submitted bills to Manitoba Health and been reimbursed when they submitted receipts, even though they had not bought extended coverage.

With all the horror stories we hear about people going bankrupt after being sick in other countries, we are very confused.

Can you give any advice?

ANSWER: Firstly, you should have no problem in getting medical insurance for the entire time you are away. A number of travel-insurance providers such as Travel Guard, which has a large presence in Manitoba, sell medical insurance that Snowbirds frequently purchase for various lengths of time.

Those aged up 60 can get medical insurance for an entire year. If the person is 60-83 years old, he or she will have to fill out a medical questionnaire, and the maximum number of days they can be covered is 183 days. Six-month purchases are common.

Insofar as Manitoba Health is concerned, I don't know the nature of your discussion, but the department's website at http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/guide/3.html is clear.

Directly quoted from the site, they state: "If you are visiting another country, you may be responsible for paying the costs of emergency medical care. We highly recommend that you buy travel health insurance from an insurance company before you leave."

While you can be reimbursed up to the maximum of what Manitoba Health covers, they also have criteria that must be followed for that reimbursement to be acceptable.

They warn: "Not all services or facilities outside Manitoba are eligible for payment from Manitoba Health."

However, if those services or facilities are eligible, you will have to pay all costs to your out-of-country providers directly, then apply for reimbursement upon your return. Payment can often take some time as they go through their checking processes.

Once you return, you need to send original receipts for any monies for which you are applying. If your claim is approved, you will be reimbursed.

However, Manitoba Health warns that what you receive may not be as much as you paid for the following reasons:

"When Manitobans are temporarily away from Canada for reasons such as travelling, working or attending university, Manitoba Health covers emergency medical care at the same rates that are paid in Manitoba:

-- Doctor's bills -- covered at the same rates paid to Manitoba doctors;

-- Hospital bills -- If you are admitted to hospital because of an emergency situation, Manitoba will pay between $280 and $570 Cdn a day, depending on the size of the hospital;

-- Emergency-room or outpatient visit -- covered up to $100 Canadian a visit;

-- Nurse-practitioner, midwife or physician-assistant bills are not covered by insured benefits if you are outside Manitoba.

The costs in other countries can be significantly higher than what Manitoba Health pays. You pay the difference. If you're planning to go out of the country, consider getting extra private health insurance. The cost of returning home to Canada after receiving emergency medical care is not covered."

I, too, strongly urge you to find coverage over and above taking a chance on what you might get back from Manitoba Health.

We have seen too many of those horror stories you speak about from people who did not act responsibly before leaving and found they created significant financial problems for themselves and their families.

One the other end of the scale, I know of at least one situation of an insurance policy we were involved in that ended up paying close to $400,000 in payments to U.S. hospitals and doctors.

Although this may be an extreme case, it can happen to anyone, and the risk is just not worth taking.

I have significant empathy for those senior citizens who still love to travel but find the cost of insurance coverage discouraging. It is still such a small percentage of the trips they take and the enjoyment they gain to justify not making the insurance investment.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 E4

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