Canadian travellers may be unwilling to leave the country even as international travel is resuming because most major travel insurers say they are continuing to exclude COVID-19 from their out-of-country medical coverage until the risks become clearer.
On May 22, Air Canada resumed services to six destinations in the United States and announced an updated summer schedule that includes nearly 100 destinations that customers can fly to, including some services to the Caribbean, South America and European markets. Last week, Walt Disney Co. announced it will be reopening two of its Florida parks on July 11, after it began a phased reopening of its largest international park in Shanghai on May. 11.
But before Canadians can begin to book destinations – particularly snowbirds who are already preparing for the coming winter season – they will need to consider the lack of medical coverage currently available, said Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure and an insurance broker in travel medical coverage.
“Even when we see international travel advisories lifted, it doesn’t necessarily mean insurance providers will be wiling to take that risk and include coverage for COVID-19,” said Mr. Firestone, a 21-year veteran in the travel insurance industry.
“A vaccination may be the only way my clients – which include a large percentage of snowbirds – will be able to travel outside of Canada ... and that could be anywhere from 12 to 24 months from now."
Many of Canada’s major travel insurers continue to exclude COVID-19 in their out-of-country medical policies, which can vary between individual companies.
Insurers Manulife Financial Corp., Allianz Global Assistance Canada and TuGo have excluded COVID-19 claims in emergency medical policies since March 13, when the Canadian government issued a global travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada.
The three insurers have not changed their positions, which state that if the advisory was issued prior to a traveller’s departure, then emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19 would not be covered under the individual travel insurance policy. (Coverage is still available for claims not associated with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.)
Manulife continues to provide emergency medical insurance (including COVID-19 related coverage) for travellers who commenced their trip prior to March 13 and remain stranded at destinations to this point.
Dan Keon, spokesperson for Allianz, said the company “continues to monitor the situation closely,” but expects COVID-19 to remain a “known event” that is ineligible for coverage until there is more data to "better understand the long-term impacts on public health, the continued pace of spread in Canada and internationally, and how global travel advisories will be managed as a preventative measure.”
“Based on projections from health officials, there is a high probability that regions will experience a second, and possibly even third, resurgence of COVID-19 cases,” Mr. Keon said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
In April, Blue Cross Canada suspended sales of all travel medical policies in both Quebec and Ontario. In a note sent to insurance brokers who sell Blue Cross policies, the company said it had still not determined when it would reopen sales for new policies.
“It is still too early to pronounce ourselves in this matter," the company wrote in the note. “We do not, however, intend to hold back sales until a vaccine is developed.”
Unlike some other major travel insurance providers, Orion Travel Insurance Co., which underwrites CAA emergency medical travel policies, says it will reinstate coverage for COVID-19 when Global Affairs Canada removes the travel advisory warnings. Currently, CAA policies are restricting claims associated with COVID-19 where an active Canadian travel advisory is in effect.
“A lot of the conversation has been around when the borders could be opening and while that may mean more free flow of movement and goods across the borders, travel advisories may be in place for quite some time after,” said Elliott Silverstein, director of government relations for CAA Insurance and Orion.
As well, travel advisories could fluctuate, Mr. Silverstein said, and travellers need to be aware of the warnings that are in place for their destination and confirm if any changes have been made to a policy since the time of purchase.
To prepare for more Canadians planning “staycations” this summer, CAA is expanding its virtual medical coverage on June 8 – which currently provides 24/7 access to a medical doctor when you are out of province or country – to policyholders when they remain within their province.
“This will allow Canadians to feel secure while travelling in their own province, especially for those who are fearful about entering a hospital and sitting in a waiting room during these times,” added Mr. Silverstein.
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.