May 15, 2008
By W. Michael Thomas CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., R.F.P.

There are many who hop on a plane and take a quick vacation to Disneyland, drop in to Las Vegas to invest a dollar or two, or just pop across the border to do a little shopping. Quite a number do not buy travel medical insurance. They thought that nothing would happen to them and, if it did, their provincial government would take care of them and pay their bills. After all, we Canadians have full government medical coverage for everyone.

In the excitement of Disneyland, their 10-year-old daughter broke her arm, the Vegas gambler ate some very bad food at one of the fancy buffets, and the guy that just popped across the border had a car accident and was hospitalized for two-and-a-half weeks. Nice, simple little claims, and there are thousands of these every year. If you have insurance there is no problem. For the “other” people, these simple little claims can, and do, become nightmares.

When people show up at a U.S. hospital, the first thing they take out is their Canadian health card and are told that it is useless in the U.S. (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter). Next comes the credit card request from the hospital. I hope that they have a very high and unused limit, or there may be trouble getting treated.

The U.S. health-care system makes money when it does tests, it makes money on operations, and it makes money by keeping you in a hospital bed. In fairness, the doctors are exposed to huge liability suits if there is even a slight possibility of a patient getting some “free” money. This is one of the reasons that U.S. doctors perform so many unnecessary tests. Generally, the daily total bill for a hospital stay will run between $10- and 20,000. Bills will be even higher if any new, high-tech medical devices are needed, such as drug-infused stents, pacemakers, defibrillators, etc.

You should know what your provincial government is paying for your out-of-Canada claim. I have given a few real-world examples in the accompanying table.

These are real claims with real cheques from the provincial governments, amounting to next-to-nothing. Your private insurer has to settle the rest of the bills, and that is why you buy travel insurance (or have this coverage through your employer). Check whether you are covered, and what coverage you may have, through your group insurance — but “don’t leave home without it!”

If you have any questions please contact Michael Thomas at the address below.
Province Condition/Ailment Total amount of bill (USD): Total GHIP recovered (CAD): Actual percentage paid by GHIP
British Columbia Cardiac arrest and pacemaker insertion $159,568.14 $2,136.01 1.2%
Alberta Myocardial infarction (heart attack) $67,092.60 $2,543.10 3.4%
Saskatchewan Sick sinus syndrome/atrial fibrillation $54,692.78 $768.39 1.3%
Manitoba Congestive heart failure $40,844.68 $1,147.78 2.5%
Ontario Myocardial infarction (heart attack) $116,958.06 $2,364.11 1.8%
Quebec Myocardial infarction (heart attack) $32,897.52 $236.94 0.6%
Nova Scotia Non-cardiac chest pain (undiagnosed) $27,879.63 $1,358.12 4.4%
Newfoundland Pelvic cysts/illeus $31,828.26 $1,412.54 4.0%
 Note: an exchange rate of .90 was used for all cases (Source: Medipac Travel Insurance)
W. Michael Thomas is a partner with The Investment Guild – endorsed provider of the HortProtect Group Insurance Program and is a director of the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation:
The Investment Guild, HortProtect
345 Renfrew Dr., Suite 302
Markham, ON L3R 9S9