Snowbirds going south? Travel insurance may be the best money you spend on your trip

It’s that time of year again, when Canadian snowbirds start thinking about what kind of medical coverage they’ll need in the United States.

OTTAWA — It’s that time of year again, when Canadian snowbirds start thinking about what kind of medical coverage they’ll need in the United States.

Or at least that’s what they should be thinking, say experts in the field. The problem is many Canadians don’t want to think about the unthinkable — that they may face a catastrophic medical emergency while on vacation and will need to be treated in a U.S. hospital.

According to a recent survey conducted for TD Insurance, only about half of Canadians aged 50 and over bother to check their coverage before leaving for vacation, and only 16 per cent call their insurance provider to determine if they need to update their policy.

“The problem is most people don’t do that, or wait until they are at the airport and buy something at the airport without even knowing what they are covered for,” says Dave Minor, a vice president responsible for life and health insurance at TD.

Those obtaining insurance should take care to know what they are covered for and what they are not — high risk activities, for instance. And they should declare pre-existing medical conditions, which could cause them to have their claim rejected.

“The horror stories I’ve heard usually have to do with people who purchase insurance and think they are covered only to find out their claim is being denied because they did not disclose a medical condition they had before travelling,” says Minor.

Canadians are accustomed to not worrying about who pays the medical bills; all they need to be concerned about is recovery.

In the United States, hospital bills can run as high as $15,000 a day. At that rate, it doesn’t take much time to get into serious money.

David Redekop, the principal research associate at the Conference Board, says the issue of Canadians travelling to the U.S., or really any country, without insurance is much more prevalent among ordinary vacationers than so-called snowbirds. There is no official definition of a snowbird, but for the purposes of his research he counts anyone 55 and over who is away for at least 31 consecutive nights.

Redekop has been researching Canadian tourism patterns for more than two decades and says his surveys suggest snowbirds tend to know the score, since they are more than likely to have experience vacationing in southern U.S. states, often stay in the same place, and often have compared notes with other snowbirds.

The risk-takers are the day-trippers or those who only go for a week or two of sun, beach and golf. “What can happen?,” they reason.

Plenty, says Redekop and none of it is good.

“If you are not covered in some manner you are at huge risk of losing everything that you own, and it may not even be your fault. It could be somebody running into you with their car. The costs are enormous in a U.S. hospital and your (provincial) insurance will only pay a small portion of that,” he says.

There are plenty of insurance companies that will offer travel medical coverage and the costs vary from well under $100 to the thousands depending on age, pre-existing medical conditions and length of uninterrupted stay.

About 1.3 million snowbirds travelled south last year and took out about $200 million on insurance premiums, with the average individual premium about $700, according to Redekop’s research. The amount was almost double that for those 65 years and over staying three months or more.

Minor says there’s other are forms of coverage snowbirds should consider before leaving.

Many home insurance policies do not specifically cover incidents such as burst pipes, unless the homeowner has made arrangements with a neighbour or friend to regularly check the home, or they have an alarm system.

Most auto insurance policies will cover snowbirds driving their own vehicle in the U.S., but Minor says they should make sure their liability ceiling is high enough for the American court system. He recommends up to $2 million.

All this can add to the cost of a vacation, but it may be the best money they spend.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Council approved a $3 million grant and a $19 million loan Tuesday to help keep Westerner Park sustainable. (Advocate file photo)
Red Deer city council approves $22M to keep Westerner Park viable after emotional debate

It’s vital ensure future success for the huge economic generator, says mayor

Red Deer Rebels goalie Chase Coward tries to find a loose puck during WHL action at the Centrium earlier this season. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Changes on the horizon for Red Deer Rebels next season

New coach, roster adjustments among top priorities for Sutter this offseason

Renovations and construction have begun at Red Deer Dream Centre. (Photo contributed)
Renovations underway at Red Deer Dream Centre

Christian-based addictions treatment centre

Red Deer County's municipal planning commission gave approval for a new directional sign for a business located near Elnora.
(Image from Red Deer County)
Red Deer County garden centre and winery gets sign approved

Delidais Estate Winery and DA Gardens is located near Elnora

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Here is a list of latest COVID-19 restrictions in effect in Alberta

New mandatory health restrictions are now in effect in Alberta. Additional restrictions… Continue reading

Boston Bruins left wing Nick Ritchie (21) and Washington Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon (4) battle for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Raffl’s late goal pushes Capitals past Bruins, 2-1

Raffl’s late goal pushes Capitals past Bruins, 2-1

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Alex DeBrincat (12) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Chicago, Saturday, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Toews’ question chases Chicago Blackhawks into offseason

Toews’ question chases Chicago Blackhawks into offseason

Wheeler has two goals, two assists as Winnipeg Jets clinch third in North Division

Wheeler has two goals, two assists as Winnipeg Jets clinch third in North Division

Depleted Raptors drop a 115-96 decision to Leonard and Clippers

Depleted Raptors drop a 115-96 decision to Leonard and Clippers

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, tosses the ball for a serve to Ilya Ivashka, of Belarus, during the Miami Open tennis tournament Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime upsets Diego Schwartzman at Italian Open

Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime upsets Diego Schwartzman at Italian Open

Philadelphia Flyers' James van Riemsdyk (25) and Sean Couturier (14) celebrate past New Jersey Devils' Yegor Sharangovich (17) after a goal by van Riemsdyk during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Flyers drop from trendy East favorite to another lost season

Flyers drop from trendy East favorite to another lost season

André Gauthier is shown in a handout photo. Gauthier, a Canadian geologist who spent six years in and out of jail in Dubai after he allegedly uncovered fraud in a gold company, finally is back home in Quebec City after his release last week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Detained in Dubai MANDATORY CREDIT
Canadian geologist detained in Dubai for six years is back home after charges dropped

Canadian geologist detained in Dubai for six years is back home after charges dropped

This undated photo provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows a group of bighorn sheep in North Dakota. Alberta's environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province's official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Bihrle/North Dakota Game and Fish Department via AP, File
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

Most Read