Be Careful With Medical Questionnaires

The great majority of Canadian snowbirds are likely to have some medical conditions they are either monitoring, treating, or for which they are taking medications: high blood pressure, high cholesterol,an unpredictable gall bladder, asthma, lung or breathing deficit, and so on. It’s part of enjoying their “Golden Years.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t travel or spend several winter months in the sun, out of the range of snow drifts.  Travel insurance is available to virtually anyone except those who have been declared terminal or have certain conditions such as HIV/AIDS, some aggressive cancers, and a handful of other quite rare conditions in advanced stages.

With snowbirds expected to make close to one million trips south this winter, travel insurers have to spread their net wide to get as many of them signed up for coverage as they can, and that means offering flexible terms to the hundreds of thousands in less-than-perfect health. They just can’t afford to lose that share of the market.

But if you are in that health category, as are most of us, you need to be extremely careful in selecting your insurance and making sure you meet all of the health eligibility requirements. And when asked to complete detailed medical questionnaires, do it right: completely, accurately, honestly and, if necessary, with the help of your doctor. If you need to pay your doctor, do so. It’s a lot cheaper than

finding your claim for thousands of dollars denied by your insurer because of non-disclosure, or failure to accurately reflect your medical condition.

I must emphasize: completing your medical questionnaire and meeting your eligibility requirements are not mere formalities. They are serious business and could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars if you mess up.

Questionnaires can be daunting.  Sometimes they rely too heavily on medical language that the layman is not familiar with.  If that’s case, ask your agent to clarify the language or, better yet, go right to the insurer and ask for clarification.

Have you in the past 12 months had symptoms, been treated by a physician or investigated for, been prescribed medications for: Cancer, gastrointestinal disorder, heart disorder, lung disorder, etc.  Looks complicated? Maybe. Take the question apart and answer it piece by piece.

If you are taking medications, do you know what they are for?  Do you know the results of any tests you have undergone for the past year?  Do you know why you are being referred for an MRI, or lab tests?

Ask your doctor to be forthright and clear with you. Your doctor has an obligation to tell you what is in your medical record.  Doctors who withhold information because they don’t want to unnecessarily upset their patients, or because they don’t want them to disrupt their vacations, or because there is nothing they would normally do to rectify the situation which they consider benign, are not doing them any favours.

For example, many elderly patients may have a first or second degree heart block (a slight malfunctioning of the electrical system in their heart), and often their doctor won’t tell them about it because there is generally nothing he would do at that stage.  But if a first or second degree heart block shows up on your medical record when your insurer is investigating your claim, and you didn’t tell them about it, that could mean an automatic denial.

How often have I heard: “But my doctor never told me.”

Well from now on, demand he or she tell you.

I also many people who, perhaps instinctively, shade the truth when they answer medical questions knowing that each time they check off a Yes to a question, their rates will go up.  Or when confronted by a question about a gall bladder operation or chronic lung disease or angina they may answer No, because they didn’t think it was an issue since it had been stable for a long time. Stable is not what you say it is or even what your doctor says it is: it is what the insurer says it is and you need to read and understand that in the policy exclusions.

Shading the truth is no way to save money.  You could end up losing your savings.  It happens.

I know people who will spend a week shopping for a new flat screen television, but will call their travel insurer one day before their planned departure and apply for insurance—leaving no time to compare plans, no time to determine which one truly meets their health profile, no time to clarify questions asked of them, or go to the doctor for help in providing accurate answers to the insurer.

A bad flat screen television purchase may cost you $4000.  A bad travel insurance purchase with a denied claim can cost them $250,000 or a lot more when a hospital demands payment.

It’s a serious game.  Without private travel insurance, most Canadians would not be able to travel out of the country for as long as they do as often as they do. The risk would be too great considering that  provincial health insurance pays pitifully little of any out-of-country health bill.

You’ve got to have insurance. Just make sure you do your part are in getting the right kind.


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