Is Travel Insurance Necessary within Canada?

Travel insurers would like you to think so. But because of the portability requirements of the Canada Health Act, you’re not nearly as likely to face catastrophic medical emergency costs while travelling in another province as you would travelling in the United States.  Is it worth it?  Do your own math.

All provinces participate in reciprocal hospital billing agreements that allow you to be covered for any medical emergency while travelling in another province just by showing your provincial health card. The host province in which you are travelling will directly bill your own province for services rendered to you, so long as the services provided are covered under the host province’s range of benefits—which in most cases they are. The intent of these agreements is to ensure that Canadian residents do not face point-of-service charges for medically-required hospital and physician services when they travel in Canada There is also a similar reciprocal billing arrangement for doctors’ services between provinces, except for Quebec, as we might expect.

Some Quebec patients have problems getting doctor’s services in other provinces because doctors don’t want to accept Quebec’s lower rates or because they have difficulty collecting their fees when they do submit their bills.  On the other hand, many Quebec physicians do not accept health cards from other provinces, and charge visiting patients directly, leaving them to be reimbursed by their own province.

Aside from this national divide, there are very few instances where residents of one province, travelling to another, will not have their emergency hospital or doctor’s bills paid in full.  The exceptions are for services not covered by the host provinces, such as ambulance services (not all provinces pay for ambulance services) or, depending on the province, the services of chiropractors, therapists, other allied health professionals.  But generally, these would be services you wouldn’t have covered in your home province either, so lack of coverage should not come as a surprise to you. And they are not the kinds of costs that should cripple you.

Of course you may fall seriously ill in another province and not be able to get home without the aid of an air ambulance or other conveyance. Or there may be some rare drug you need that may not be available in the province you’re visiting.  But there are usually options to deal with such rare situations, and very often health ministries work with each other to help solve them.

Ultimately, whether or not you need out-of-province health insurance will come down to your own assessment of how much risk you’re comfortable with. And that’s a personal decision.

If you feel it worth while to pay $100 in premium to cover a potential $1000 loss that has a 1 in a 1000 chance of occurring, then your risk quotient is pretty low and you better get insurance for interprovincial travel. But if you feel you it doesn’t make economic sense to pay out high premiums to cover low risk losses, then you may well forego such coverage.  Do your own math.

Certainly the risk involved in travelling inter-provincially without supplementary health insurance is marginal compared to travelling uninsured out of the country—where two days in a foreign hospital can wipe out your savings.

But perhaps the best test of your acceptable risk is the simplest: How well do you sleep at night?

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