Travel insurance? Check out fine print

Read the fine print when considering what type of travel insurance you need. (QMI Agency files)

Read the fine print when considering what type of travel insurance you need. (QMI Agency files)

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:17 AM ET

Travel insurance is something you buy and hope you never have to use.

Medical insurance is the most important, but travellers should also consider two other types, cancellation and trip interruption.

Medical insurance is a must before travelling outside Canada. You don't want to have to mortgage your house to pay a hospital bill in the U.S.

OHIP covers basic health care in Canada but provides limited funding for a limited range of medical services elsewhere.

Cancellation insurance is intended to cover non-refundable costs such as airline tickets and escorted tours if an illness or death forces you to cancel the trip.

Trip interruption insurance is supposed to cover you if something major goes wrong while you are away. It is often included with cancellation insurance.

I've used words and phrases like "intended" and "supposed to" because insurance policies are filled with exclusions and exceptions that can lead to a claim being denied.

Take the case of a woman whose claim for a cardiac problem was denied. She'd taken medication for an infection and on her insurance application form had not correctly answered the question: "Have you ever had a kidney or bladder infection."

True, she didn't fill out the form properly, but, as the president of another insurance firm asked: Is it morally right to deny her claim when the infection was not related to her cardiac problem?

In researching this column, I interviewed a spokesperson for RBC Insurance, which my wife and I have used for many overseas trips. He put it succinctly: "People need to read the fine print."

So I read one of their policies -- all 12 pages of it -- and found at least one of the provisions RBC cited in denying a claim I made in 2008.

My wife and I were booked to visit Pakistan, where she was a delegate to an international conference.

Terrorist attacks and street riots in the months leading up to the conference made me apprehensive.

When a major political figure, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated, I told our travel agent we weren't going. The conference was later cancelled.

Some of the money we'd already paid was non-refundable. I applied for reimbursement, citing the conference's cancellation and a warning Canada's foreign affairs department had issued against travelling to Pakistan.

RBC refused, saying the conference was not related to a full-time occupation (my wife was retired) and the government warning was in effect before we booked the trip.

We lost about $1,200, plus $924 in premiums for insurance we thought would protect us.

Two later claims were approved: one for about $225 for medical treatment on a cruise ship, another for more than $1,200 in deposits for a cruise we cancelled for medical reasons.

The first required little more than a receipt from the ship. The second involved a form from my family doctor and another I found so difficult to interpret it took an hour on the phone to RBC to sort out.

In the case of medical insurance, think worst-case scenario. Does the policy cover flying you home by air ambulance? Does it have a deductible? Will the insurer pay your expenses up front or later on?

Pay particular attention to benefits being denied if your medical emergency arises because of a health problem you had when your trip started (Insurers call it a "pre-existing condition").

Many travellers don't buy travel insurance because they think they're covered through a premium credit card or their employer's insurance benefits.

But both may contain limitations -- an age 65 cutoff, for example -- that make them unsuitable.

Before leaving home, find out what your card covers and whether it will be accepted by the car rental company.

You can compare credit cards at www.creditcardsearch.ca/

 


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