CDN’s stranded abroad may lose travel insurance as some providers impose March 31 deadline

The Globe and Mail

Canadian travellers stuck abroad may find themselves without emergency medical coverage as some insurers impose a March 31 deadline when coverage will expire while refusing extensions for people showing signs of COVID-19.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to return home while they still can, but made it clear that anyone with symptoms of the virus will not be allowed to travel to Canada until they have recovered.

Canadians showing signs of the novel coronavirus will need to remain quarantined for 14 days in the country they are currently visiting, and not be allowed to board any flights to Canada. For some, that could mean a lapse in their current emergency medical coverage.

The uncertainty in guidance issued by travel insurers – which has been changing by the day in some cases – has left thousands of Canadians unsure of whether they will be covered while they attempt to get home or remain under quarantine.

Out-of-country medical policy coverage can range from $2-million to $10-million a person. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, insurance companies have deemed the virus a “known event,” which could mean they are not covered for the illness.

Last week, several retired teacher associations alerted their members – many of whom are snowbirds vacationing in the southern United States – that emergency medical coverage provided by their association would be expiring at 11:59 pm on March 23. The policy change was triggered by a March 13 travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada.

Many insurance policies allow an individual to purchase an extension or top-up to their coverage. But to qualify for the extension, most Canadian insurance companies require the policyholder to answer several qualifying questions.

Two common questions asked before an extension is granted is whether an insured person is in good health and knows no reason to seek medical attention, and whether he or she has been examined or treated by any physician or been advised by a physician to seek treatment, says Marty Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a seller of travel medical coverage.

“Automatically these individuals – who are being turned away from our border due to coronavirus symptoms – are not going to be eligible to top up or extend their coverage,” Mr. Firestone said.

Canadians who are stranded abroad can apply for an emergency loan from Global Affairs Canada of up to $5,000 for essential needs. But for those without medical coverage, hospital bills can quickly run into the tens of thousands and the government may have to provide further assistance.

“If an elderly traveller comes down with symptoms and ends up in an intensive care room in a hospital, they could be looking at $25,000 a night,” he said. “If their insurance has expired, where are they going to turn? I would suspect the government has to have some contingency fund set up to handle people whose travel insurance ended.”

Manulife Financial Corp.’s individual travel plans for emergency medical coverage allow for extensions as long as “there has been no event that has resulted, or may result in a claim against the policy,” and “there has been no change in your health status.”

Travel insurer Group Medical Service Inc. (GMS) updated its policies to allow clients to extend or top up their coverage until March 31, although the company would not confirm whether people showing symptoms would qualify for the extension.

“[The March 31 deadline] should give clients the additional time they need to arrange travel back to Canada as per the government’s recommendation,” GMS said on its website.

TuGo travel insurance allows clients to purchase a one-time 10-day extension to their travel medical coverage, as long as clients can sign a “health declaration, have not seen a doctor, and have made no claims.”

If clients need more than 10 days, TuGo offers an option to purchase additional days required to “reasonably evacuate” the country or area they are returning from.

One of the country’s largest travel insurers, Allianz Global Assistance Canada, would not confirm to The Globe and Mail whether their medical coverage would be extended for people unable to return to Canada owing to coronavirus symptoms.

“As the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly each day, we are reviewing our policies alongside the Canadian government’s border and travel restrictions to ensure we can assist customers abroad in their safe return to Canada,” spokesman Dan Keon said.

How coverage is triggered: COVID-19 and business insurance

Commercial insurance is complex and specialized, which makes it important that you speak to your insurance representative if you have any questions or need clarification about your coverage.

Will my standard business policy or business interruption policy cover me for interruptions due to COVID-19?

  • Generally, commercial insurance policies and traditional business interruption policies do not offer coverage for business interruption or supply chain disruption due to a pandemic such as COVID-19.
  • Some organizations may have purchased specialized contingent business interruption coverage, stand-alone business interruption coverage and supply chain disruption coverage which may be triggered as a result of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic.
  • Commercial insurance is complex and specialized and specific to your business which makes it important that you speak to your insurance representative if you have any questions or need clarification about your coverage.

How does business insurance work?

Property insurance for businesses is designed to protect the physical assets of a business against loss and/or damage from a broad range of causes. There are two basic policy types:

  1. Named perils – covers only loss and/or damage caused by perils specifically listed in the policy, subject to exclusions. Loss and/or damage caused by any other peril is not covered.
  2. Comprehensive – covers loss and/or damage caused by any peril, unless specifically excluded.

What is business interruption (BI) coverage?

BI coverage is an add-on to an existing business insurance policy. In the event of a business temporarily needing to shut down, BI covers continuing expenses or replaces lost profits. There are three types of BI policies:

  1. Gross earnings policy, which pays only until property or damage is replaced or repaired, or stock is replaced
  2. Profits form policy, which continues to pay until a business resumes its normal, pre-interruption level (subject to policy limits)
  3. Extra expense policy, which is designed for businesses that can remain operational during periods affected by loss and/or damage.

How does BI insurance work?

BI policies are not standardized and include many variants, but most contain language indicating that the insurer will pay for the actual loss of “business income” due to the “necessary suspension” of operations during “the period of restoration.” A number of concepts and nuances come into play, including:

  • Physical damage requirement: Most policies require proof that the insured premises sustained physical damage (for example, from fire, heat, flooding or firefighting efforts) that was covered under their property policy, which caused an interruption that resulted in a loss of business income. A business that is interrupted due to the loss of data or a loss of utilities may not have sustained a physical loss. (There is separate utility loss coverage.)
  • Period of restoration: If BI coverage is triggered, a significant issue is defining the period of indemnity or, as some policies refer to it, the period of restoration. Most policies will pay business income loss through to the point that the business is restored or when the coverage expires (usually 12 months from the beginning of the interruption).

5 things to know about Ottawa’s COVID 19 financial aid package

OTTAWA _ Five things to know about Ottawa’s $82-billion financial-aid package announced Wednesday to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic:

New emergency benefits

Ottawa is waiving the one-week waiting period to claim employment insurance sickness benefits. The government is also proposing a new emergency care benefit of up to $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks to help workers who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 or taking take of a sick family member, but do not qualify for employment insurance sickness benefits. The new benefit will also be available for parents who can’t earn employment income because they need to care for children, whether or not the parents qualify for employment insurance.

Increased benefits and top-ups

The government is moving to make a special one-time payment to those who receive the goods and services tax credit that will double the maximum annual payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year. The government is also proposing to increase the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year by $300 per child.

Help for businesses

The government wants to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage 10 per cent wage subsidy for three months. The payment will be up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Companies eligible will include those eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.

Tax delays

The Canada Revenue is pushing back the income-tax filing deadline for individuals until June 1. For trusts with a taxation year the same as the calendar year the filing date will be deferred to May 1. The agency will also allow all businesses to defer, until after Aug. 31, 2020, income-tax payments on amounts that become owing between now and September 2020. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

Other targeted aid

The government is providing $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous community support fund for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation communities. It is also placing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans. The required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds are being cut by 25 per cent for 2020.

Travel insurance in the time of COVID-19

By Weston Pollard | The lawyers Daily

As Canadians ready themselves for the spread of the global virus COVID-19, the whiplash-effect of cancellations and closure announcements continues at a dizzying speed. Reduced hours for businesses, the prospect of prolonged closures and a workforce jittery about working closely together is having an impact on all sectors of the Canadian economy. The travel industry stands out as one of the hardest hit to date because of COVID-19, and as a result, travel insurers are changing the way they do business.

Trip cancellation

The first effect of COVID-19 on travel insurance policies began in earnest on March 4, when Manulife and TuGo issued statements indicating that neither company would provide coverage for trips cancelled due to the virus. Policies that were purchased before midnight on March 3 would continue to include trip cancellation coverage, but policies purchased after that time would not include such coverage.

Medical coverage

On March 13, The Globe and Mail reported that two of Canada’s largest travel insurers, Manulife and Allianz Global, would no longer cover emergency medical expenses for travellers who visit countries for which the government has issued a COVID-19 travel advisory prior to their departure date. Also on March 13, the government of Canada issued a “global travel advisory” to Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada. This was in addition to a March 9 warning that Canadians should avoid all cruise ship travel.

Manulife confirmed that it will not cover medical expenses for customers who travel to destinations that were the subject of a “high-risk” government COVID-19 travel advisory at the time of departure. No definition of high-risk accompanied the Manulife statement.

Adding to the confusion, the government of Canada does not issue travel advisories with a risk index but rather classifies destinations based on four levels. Level 1 advises travellers to use “regular precaution” when travelling to that particular country, while level 4 advises travellers to “avoid all travel” to that destination. Currently, the global travel advisory in place puts most countries at a level 3, which advises travellers to “avoid non-essential travel” to those countries.

Allianz Global Assistance has provided a bit more clarity in its announcement, stating that the company will not cover emergency medical treatment of those who contract COVID-19 in a country that has a level 3 or 4 travel advisory related to COVID-19 before they left on their trip.

No mention was made, however, of what will happen to those who may have contracted the virus before travelling with symptoms starting after arriving at their destination. Current information on COVID-19 released by Health Canada suggests an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days before symptoms start. With the virus being transmitted worldwide and such a wide range of incubation, there is no indication of just how Allianz Global can determine when and where the virus was contracted.

Both insurers rely on the “known-risk” exclusion provisions of their policies, meaning that the insurers take the position that COVID-19 exposure is now a widely known risk and not an odd, unexpected mishap that travel insurance and trip cancellation insurance were designed to cover.

Johnson Insurance, which offers a popular travel plan for snowbirds, has a requirement in its policy that coverage ends 10 days after a travel advisory is issued. Johnson has indicated to its customers that they should return to Canada as coverage for out of country medical emergencies will not be covered.

What can insured travellers do?

Here are a few tips:

  • Read your policy thoroughly, including all definitions. Identify any additional policy endorsements that may have been purchased. Manulife, for example, has a separate policy endorsement that can be purchased called “Cancel for Any Reason,” which reimburses customers up to 75 per cent of their covered cancellation losses, an endorsement that continues to be offered.
  • Contact your insurer. For those who have travelled or still plan on travelling and have purchased emergency medical coverage, contact your insurer and find out if you will be covered. As things are constantly in flux, endeavour to get a response from the insurer in writing. Some insurers other than Allianz Global and Manulife continue to offer emergency medical coverage for those who have travelled to COVID-19 risk zones, though that list is shrinking. Confirm if you are covered.
  • Look to your group benefits. If you have group medical benefits through your employer, review that policy. Many insurers like Manulife, SunLife & CanadaLife have emergency “out-of-Canada” travel coverage. Those group plans remain unchanged.
  • Be smart. Shop around. Review travel policies online before purchase. Contact the company before you buy, tell them where you are going and ask specifically whether you will be covered for emergency medical treatment related to COVID-19 and trip cancellation due to COVID-19.
  • Look for alternative relief. Many airlines are waiving rebooking fees, while hotels are waiving cancellation fees. Don’t just count on your travel insurance to cover you for medical issues arising out if exposure to COVID-19 or refund a trip cancelled because of COVID-19.

The global reach of COVID-19 and the speed at which it has spread has caused travel insurers to rethink coverage. Intended for unforeseen circumstances, insurers are simply unable to manage the sheer cost of mass cancellations and mass hospitalizations. Expect future travel policies to be updated to specifically exclude travel losses associated with a known pandemic, meaning that these exclusions are likely here to stay.

Weston Pollard is a partner at Edwards Pollard LLP, a boutique litigation firm in Oakville focusing on personal injury, insurance denials and employment law.

Most businesses not covered for potential interruptions from COVID-19, insurance industry warns

The insurance industry is sounding the alarm that most businesses in Canada are not covered for the potential business interruptions caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Generally, commercial insurance policies and traditional business interruption policies do not offer coverage for business interruption or supply-chain disruption due to a pandemic such as COVID-19,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president, federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Businesses and individuals typically take out property and casualty (P&C) insurance to cover for natural disasters such as storms and fires. For example, about $3.7-billion of the damage caused by the 2016 fires in Fort McMurray, Canada’s costliest disaster, were covered by insurance.

Specialty coverage for disruption of business and supply-chain operations due to a pandemic does exist, and it could have been triggered by the World Health Organization’s official designation last week of the global outbreak as such. But “it is anticipated that the number [of companies that have it] is quite limited,” Mr. Stewart said.

Jennifer Beaudry, a spokeswoman for Intact Financial Corp., Canada’s largest P&C insurer, said coverage for pandemics “is not common in Canada and Intact does not offer [it].” She said Intact’s base contracts require an insured party to have a damaged building, equipment or stock on location to trigger business-interruption coverage.

Insurance-industry officials briefed the federal government last week about the potential issue after Ottawa reached out to key sectors to gauge how the pandemic could affect them.

“The government is in contact with Canadian insurers,” a finance department spokesperson said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “We understand that not every business has business-interruption insurance and that pandemics are not likely covered in this type of insurance. If businesses have questions about their coverage, they should consult with their insurance advisers.”

Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), a leading business lobby group, said as a result of the pandemic, “manufacturers will have to shut down, business continuity will be affected and, unfortunately, it is unclear if they will be able to rely on their insurance policies.” The CME has urged the government to take steps to blunt the impacts on the Canadian economy.

The government moved Friday to help the private sector by making $10-billion in business credit financing available through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. In addition, the Bank of Canada slashed interest rates and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions lowered the domestic stability buffer for Canada’s systemically important large banks, enabling them to increase their lending capacity by more than $300-billion.

Source: Chris Helgren – Reuters

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Lost your job because of COVID-19? Employment insurance might help.

Rory McGouran | Discover Humboldt

Service Canada is ready to support Canadians affected by COVID-19 and placed in quarantine.

Individuals who are asked to stay at home, or who are in self-quarantine, can not always complete their work from home. Therefore, Service Canda has made special exceptions when it comes to Employment Insurance (EI) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as cough, fever, difficulty breathing or you are in self-isolation or quarantine, do not visit or enter any Service Canada office. As an alternative, you may access their services online or by calling 1 800 O-Canada.

Employment Insurance provides up to 15 weeks of income replacement for a variety of reasons for which one can not work. Canadians quarantined can apply for Employment Insurance sickness benefits.

According to Service Canada, they have put these support actions in place to help individuals in quarantine.

  • The one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
  • Establishing a new dedicated toll-free phone number to support enquiries related to waiving the EI sickness benefits waiting period.
  • Priority EI application processing for EI sickness claims for clients under quarantine.
  • People claiming EI sickness benefits due to quarantine will not have to provide a medical certificate.
  • People who cannot complete their claim for EI sickness benefits due to quarantine may apply later and have their EI claim backdated to cover the period of delay.

For the new dedicated EI toll-free phone number if you are in quarantine, call 1-833-381-2725

The website also offers vast information when it comes to Labour Programs and federally regulated workplaces, as well as Work-Sharing Programs.

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