Canadian snowbirds on the move as insurance companies deny COVID coverage – but there is a solution

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Each fall, Marion Bartlett, a retiree from Singhampton, Ontario, eagerly awaits her annual winter escape to Saint Lucia.

Bartlett and her husband have been traveling to Saint Lucia for a dozen years now, living in a neighborhood where they are “symbolic Canadians”, warmly welcomed by their neighbors. Bartlett, artist, is a volunteer teacher at the local school and is involved in many local projects.

“I really appreciate it,” said Bartlett. “Some of my best friends are here now. I can’t think of not going there but, this winter, we can be stuck here. “

Bartlett and her husband are not the only Canadians whose travel plans have been disrupted by COVID-19. Many Canadian snowbirds – retirees who spend their winters in warmer climates – are concerned about traveling south, especially to the United States.

An Ipsos poll from May 17 indicates that only 20% of Canadians plan to travel outside of Canada in 2020; 50% would not be at all likely to do so.

Without a doubt, they are influenced by Global Affairs Canada’s COVID-19 travel advisory, which recommends that Canadians “avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada and avoid all travel by boat. until further notice. ” Prohibition Means Canadian Insurers Do Not Issue Travel Insurance for those who ignore the advisory, putting snowbirds at risk for health costs related to COVID-19 and other illnesses.

“We contacted an insurance broker and he said no, that as long as the travel advisory is in effect, non-essential travel will not be covered by insurance,” said Bartlett. “It would be irresponsible to go to Saint Lucia without insurance. It would be like driving a car without auto insurance. “

TD Insurance states on its website that people who contract the coronavirus will not be covered for any claim “as long as this non-essential travel advisory remains in place”. Manulife Insurance informs customers that any policy issued after March 5, 2020 will not cover COVID-19. For policies that extend into the future, “your coverage remains in place for its entire term in accordance with the policy’s general conditions” – which means that COVID-19 is unlikely to be covered.

Snowbirds generally rely on individual travel insurance plans. For group insurance plans, members should contact their provider to find out what is covered and what will be covered in the future, if decided.

Currently, most Canadian insurers no longer sell individual travel insurance, as most policies have a clause that points directly to the government and the level of threat in place. In fact, said Joan Weir, director of health and disability policies for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, even after travel restrictions are relaxed and Canadian insurers re-offer policies travel, “COVID-19 coverage is not likely to be included. in the benefits. ”

The association, which represents 99% of Canadian travel insurers, works closely with Global Affairs Canada. Weir said his sentiment was that “the government will take a very conservative and orderly approach to lower the threat level for travel. Travel is unlikely to be allowed in all countries at the same time; the government will assess each country separately. “

Jana Ray, head of membership and benefits for CARP, the rights organization of older Canadians, says it’s no surprise that Canadian insurers are reluctant to sell travel insurance.

“The cases are so high in some parts of the United States right now that I can’t imagine the insurers being ready to offer coverage right now,” she said. “Currently, insurers are taking it day by day and anticipating a second wave, so things are on hold. “

Snowbirds can have a heart, however: there are American insurers who offer coverage including COVID-19 to visitors.

“For some companies, the risk of loss is considered lower than the premiums they would lose if they did not offer COVID-19 coverage,” said Narendra Khatri, CEO of Insubuy, a Texas brokerage firm that offers policies to travelers outside. their country of origin.

Insubuy currently offers COVID policies included by Crum & Forster to Canadians traveling to the United States, the Caribbean or other countries; policies are available for people up to 89 years of age.

They cover travelers up to $ 100,000 in medical expenses. A six-month policy for a 70-year-old man would cost $ 250 (US); age determines the cost of coverage, rather than pre-existing conditions, noted Khatri.

As of July 15, Lloyd’s of London will also offer travel insurance that includes COVID-19 coverage.

As fall approaches, Khatri expects business to boom, especially if Canadian insurers still don’t offer coverage.

“Last week, several Canadian brokers signed with us,” he said. “People understand the importance of travel insurance, especially because there is no universal health care here.”

However, Ray urges the snowbirds to think twice before jumping on the American blanket.

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“If you have comorbidities, such as heart problems, you should consider your travel options very carefully,” said Ray. “We don’t want people to be underinsured. When you talk about respirators and heart problems, you could get coverage of $ 50,000 in a week, no problem. “

Nevertheless, the availability of cover offers a glimmer of hope to snowbirds like Bartlett.

“It’s not just the money we bring to foreign economies,” said Bartlett. “Many snowbirds do many great things in our adopted communities. All of these things will be lost if we cannot travel this winter. “

Before traveling this winter:

  • Check with your insurer to see if your travel insurance includes COVID-19 treatment outside of Canada.
  • Consider trip cancellation insurance “cancel for any reason” which is more flexible but can be more expensive.
  • Remember that new health criteria must be met when boarding. Trip cancellation insurance is not intended to pay the costs in the event of denied boarding.
  • Note that trip cancellation insurance requires that any compensation provided by the travel provider, including credit vouchers, is generally deducted from the amount eligible for reimbursement.
  • Know the conditions for entry into the country in which you are traveling and follow their instructions (for example, 14-day quarantine, COVID-19 test at destination or before boarding the plane).
  • Be aware that if you need to return to Canada for medical treatment, your options may be limited due to the reduced availability of flights.
  • Make sure you have travel insurance for your entire trip, as some insurers may limit options for extending policies after departure.
  • Be prepared to return to Canada quickly if the Government of Canada increases the travel advisory level again. Your travel insurance benefits may be limited.
  • Be aware that upon your return to Canada, you will be subject to the requirements of the federal and provincial or territorial governments regarding quarantine, testing and exposure monitoring.

Source: Canadian Association of Life and Health Insurance Companies

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