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A number of Canadian retirees are now being told that they have until March 23 to return home to Canada before their emergency medical coverage for COVID-19 will no longer be valid.

Jeff Adams, a 66-year-old retiree from Calgary, and his wife, Helen, received an e-mail from their travel insurer on Friday evening stating that medical expenses related to the novel coronavirus would no longer be active 10 days from March 13 – the day the Canadian government issued a new global travel advisory.

The e-mail – which was sent by Ms. Adams’s benefit provider, the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association (ARTA) – was sent just hours after Ottawa urged Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice, asking those out of country to return home as soon as possible.

The Retired Teachers of Ontario sent out a similar e-mail on Saturday to their 89,000 members, stating that their emergency travel medical coverage would be cancelled within 10 days of the global travel advisory. A spokesperson for RTO says there would be some flexibility for those members stuck in regions, such as Spain or Italy where travel is limited, or for others who can’t safely return home by March 23.

“For most members, we expect safe return can take place within 10 days of the March 13 advisory,” RTO spokesperson Sylvia Link said.

ARTA – which has 25,000 members and 35,000 individuals enrolled for emergency travel medical coverage – partners with Allianz Global Assistance Canada for its travel insurance.

Daniel Mulloy, ARTA’s chief executive, told The Globe and Mail that the suspension was owing to a clause in the company’s travel contract with Allianz. The clause states that if there is a travel advisory put into place – even after the date a member leaves the country – certain medical expenses will be limited to 10 days past the date the advisory warning was issued. (Other non-COVID-19 medical expenses will continue to be covered.)

“This travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada is unprecedented for us, but we have to follow the contractual obligations that our travel underwriter have in place," Mr. Mulloy said.

Mr. and Ms. Adams, snowbirds who spend winters in Bradenton, Fla., are both covered under ARTA’s travel insurance policy, which provides 92 days of emergency medical coverage while out of country.

Mr. Adams left the country on Dec. 28 and his wife – a retired nurse – flew down on Jan. 9 to meet him. Through ARTA, the two were scheduled to have coverage until the end of March.

Travel insurance helps people who have to cancel trips, or receive medical care outside Canada, owing to unforeseen events. Policy coverage can range from $2-million to $10-million a person. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, insurance companies have been frequently updating policies, deeming the virus a “known event” that customers are now aware of before leaving the country.

But many snowbirds left the country well before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11.

“When we left the country, only a fraction of Canadians had even heard about the coronavirus,” Mr. Adams said in an interview with The Globe.

“What right does an insurance company have to abruptly cancel coverage like this?"

Last Friday, Allianz told The Globe that they had made adjustments on their medical coverage. The company no longer would cover emergency medical treatment for customers who contract the new coronavirus in a country that had a Level 3 or 4 travel advisory related to the virus before they left on their trip. That included those travelling on cruise ships, spokesperson Dan Keon said.

On Sunday, Mr. Keon said the company works with a “broad range of partners, programs and products,” and that coverage is not being cancelled for all travel policies.

For ARTA members, Mr. Keon told The Globe that there would be “flexibility” with the 10 days if more time is reasonably necessary to evacuate and return home, but did not elaborate on what scenarios that would include.

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