Travel abroad? You can now get COVID-19 medical coverage, sometimes for free

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Canadians who aspire to travel abroad – despite the COVID-19 pandemic – can now obtain medical insurance to cover the costs if they fall ill with the coronavirus while traveling.In March, when the virus began to spread globally and Canada advised against non-essential overseas travel, travel insurance providers stopped selling COVID-19 medical coverage.

Now, several insurance providers have resumed offering coverage with their regular travel insurance plans.

Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and the Flight Center travel agency have also joined, offering free COVID-19 medical coverage to passengers booking select international flights and vacation packages.

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he was surprised by the wave of offers – considering Canada’s advice against international travel remains intact due to the ongoing pandemic.

“Your country is currently subject to a Level 3 travel advisory, and you have airlines that attract people with free medical coverage,” Firestone said with Travel Secure in Toronto.

“Whether you have coverage or not, you may be in a very precarious situation with [available] hospital beds and treatments and the ability to return to Canada by air. ”

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he was surprised by all the COVID-19 coverage offers for travelers, given that Canada advises Canadians not to travel abroad. (CBC)

Many companies providing COVID-19 coverage have told CBC News they are responding to consumer demand.

“People are looking to travel,” said Richard Job, vice president of business partnership for Flight Center. “They can travel if they want to, and we just want it to be as safe as possible.”

International travelers returning to Canada must self-isolate for 14 days.

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Who provides coverage?

At least three insurers, Medipac, Tour + Med and Blue Cross (in Ontario and Quebec) now offer COVID-19 medical coverage as part of their regular travel insurance plans – or as a supplement.

Manulife announced this week it will begin offering coverage in October.

Plans vary. For example, not all providers cover daily expenses if an infected traveler is forced to quarantine abroad.

Each company said it offered medical coverage for all illnesses, including COVID-19, up to $ 5 million – with the exception of Manulife, which capped COVID-19 coverage at $ 200,000 .

Manulife declined to comment on the cap.

Air Canada offers free COVID-19 medical coverage for certain vacation packages and international flights. (Sophia Harris / CBC)

Airline industry offering free coverage

Flight Center and airlines only offer free coverage for COVID-19 illnesses and related expenses, such as accommodation costs during quarantine. Offers are available for a limited time – ranging from the next seven months to one year.

Customers booking vacation packages with Flight center, Air Canada Vacations and WestJet for some destinations – which exclude the United States – are covered up to $ 100,000 in medical bills. WestJet offers the same coverage for international flights, excluding the United States

Sunwing will cover up to $ 200,000 in COVID-19 medical bills for passengers booking any of its vacation and flight packages on or after October 16. Air Canada (which is separate from Air Canada Vacations) currently offers the same $ 200,000 coverage to customers purchasing international flights, including within the United States.

Although the Canada-U.S. Land border is closed to non-essential traffic, Canadians can still travel to the United States.

Firestone is wondering if $ 200,000 would be enough to cover a severe case of COVID-19 in the United States, where medical costs can be high.

“What if the bill is $ 500,000?” ” he said. “So that becomes your problem. ”

Manulife, which is partnering with Air Canada to provide the coverage, declined to comment.

Air Canada said passengers wanting extra protection can consider purchasing an extensive travel insurance plan.

And the snowbirds?

Medipac’s main customers are the snowbirds heading to the southern United States, where the rate of COVID-19 infection remains high. But the insurance provider said it was confident it would not be bombarded with COVID-19 claims because Medipac customers will likely play it safe.

“The people we adapt our product to are going to be doing what they’ve always done, traveling as a couple, going to their winter home,” said Medipac spokesperson Christopher Davidge.

“We’re not talking about cramming into a cheap airline… and staying in a resort hotel and going to a theme park. ”

Snowbird Perry Cohen said he and his wife, Rose, plan to take all necessary precautions when they likely visit their condo this winter in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Near Fort Lauderdale.

“Our community is pretty safe,” said Cohen, who lives in Toronto. “We are not going to look for large crowds. We don’t run to bars and restaurants. ”

Even so, Cohen said the COVID-19 coverage is a game-changer because he and his wife would never consider heading south if they can’t buy it.

“Why take the risk? ” he said. “I like a full package to know that I’m taking care of myself. “

Perry Cohen said he and his wife, Rose, plan to take all necessary precautions when they likely visit their condo this winter in Deerfield Beach, Fla. (Submitted by Perry Cohen)

The cases “go up”

But not all impatient travelers will be swayed by the COVID-19 coverage.

Passionate international traveler Suzanne Chojnacki said she and her husband would stay put for now as they still had many concerns – such as getting stuck abroad if the country they are visiting suddenly closes its borders.

” The [COVID-19 case] the numbers are on the rise again, “said Chojnacki, who lives in Richmond Hill, Ont.” So now is really not a good time to think about leaving – for us.

Current plans providing travelers with COVID-19 coverage do not include compensation if a customer cancels a trip due to the pandemic. Firestone said this was because cancellation insurance typically covers unexpected accidents, not a “known” issue such as coronavirus.

“It’s so well known, it’s not even funny. “

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