Pre-existing Condition Coverage in Travel Insurance? Not So Fast

In their determination to stay competitive, many travel insurers advertise that they “cover pre-existing conditions.” And they do—to an extent.

But don’t, for a second, believe that they cover them “unconditionally.” Try calling an insurer from a hospital bed after you have just had a heart attack, and see what they say when you apply for coverage that begins next week.

That may be an extreme example, but I use it to illustrate that you should not take all promotional materials literally.

The issuance of travel insurance is based, primarily, on two things: age and health. The young and healthy will find more plan options, and will find them cheaper. Those not in perfect health, or in their middle or advancing years, will have to research their options more deliberately and do some reading of the fine print. Fortunately, more insurers are starting to use plain language in explaining what their policies cover and what they exclude. That’s a good thing—if you bother to read your policy. Too many don’t, and wind up regretting their oversight.

Generally, travel insurance policies that say they “cover pre-existing conditions” do so if they have been stable and controlled for a given period of time (e.g., 30, 60, or 90 days, one year, five years—pick a number). What that usually means (again, only generally) is that they will cover you if you have not had symptoms, required treatment or investigation by a health care professional, referral to a specialist, or a change in dosage or type of medication within the specified time period. Those limitations will vary from insurer to insurer, so you need to look at each policy on its own merits. You also need to see how the policy defines terms such as “treatment,” “investigation,” or “stable.” And though your doctor may give you a clean bill of health, it’s the definitions in the policy that rule.

When you assess a policy, read what these terms mean in the definitions section and apply them to your specific situation. Be honest. If you need help, ask your doctor or talk it over with an agent who specializes in travel insurance. The game doesn’t end when you have a policy in your pocket. If you generate a claim, the insurer will examine your medical history going back several years. And if they find your condition or symptoms were, in fact, unstable, they may deny your claim. And you don’t want that.

You may think that’s unfair, but 20 years ago, most policies simply wouldn’t cover any pre-existing conditions—stable or not. How fair would that be for the millions of Canadians who aren’t necessarily in perfect health, but still travel out of the country each year?

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