Some major Canadian insurers will no longer cover emergency medical expenses related to the novel coronavirus for travellers who visit countries with high-level travel advisories.
Canada’s largest insurance company, Manulife Financial Corp., told The Globe and Mail on Friday it will not cover any medical expenses related to COVID-19 under individual travel policies if customers go to a destination that was the subject of a “high level” government advisory before their departure.
Allianz Global Assistance Canada – which earlier this week updated its trip cancellation policies due to COVID-19 – also said it will not cover emergency medical treatment for customers who contract coronavirus in a country that had a level 3 or 4 travel advisory related to coronavirus before they left on their trip.
That limitation also applies to people leaving on cruises on or after March 9, as the company considers a warning from the Public Health Agency of Canada for Canadians to avoid cruise ships travel to be a Level 4 government advisory, Allianz spokesperson Dan Keon said.
“Insurance is really there to protect for the unexpected in emergencies,” said Joan Weir, director of health and disability policy at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.
“At some point in time, [COVID-19] became so widespread that some insurers took the position that it is no longer an emergency situation from a travel perspective any more. People are certainly more aware of the coronavirus, of what COVID-19 is, and they are more aware of travel advisories too."
For Manulife and Allianz customers travelling to destinations that are not the subject of advisories, medical costs related to the coronavirus will be covered. As well, medical costs that are not related to the coronavirus will be covered for all travel destinations.
(Manulife’s group benefits medical coverage, which is offered to individuals through their employers, is not affected by the company’s changes to its individual travel policies.)
Travel insurance helps people who have to cancel trips, or receive medical care outside Canada, due to unforeseen events. Policy coverage can range from $2-million to $10-million per person. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, insurance companies are deeming the virus a “known event” that customers are aware of before leaving the country.
The Canadian government has issued travel warnings for China, Iran, northern Italy, South Korea and Japan, in addition to the cruise ship advisory.
Other major insurers in Canada, such as Canada Life Assurance Co. and Sun Life Financial Inc., have not yet changed their out-of-country coverage.
Sun Life’s group benefits extended health care program, which includes “out-of-Canada” coverage for travel medical emergencies, does not have an exclusion for travel advisories or bans. This means Sun Life plan members who go to countries with a travel advisory or on a cruise ship are still covered as long as they remain eligible under their group plan.
Canada Life, which also provides medical coverage to group-benefit customers, has made no changes with respect to COVID-19.
“We will not decline coverage to people solely on the basis of their travel to a country with a travel advisory or a cruise ship,” Canada Life spokesperson Liz Kulyk.
That could change as new information emerges, she said.
“We encourage all Canadians to follow the direction of the [government] with respect to travel advisories.”
To date, credit card providers have made no changes to out-of-country emergency medical benefits they offer.