5 tips on avoiding big medical bills on vacation; pre existing condition a risk

By Armina Ligaya

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Many Canadians are gearing up to fly to warmer climes as the March break holiday approaches, but some may return home with hefty medical bills if they don’t read the fine print on their travel insurance policy.

One key element that can lead to your insurance claim being denied is an existing medical issue, or what’s known as a pre-existing condition.

It’s a rude awakening that some Canadians have faced over the years, such as a Saskatchewan couple who found themselves on the hook for nearly US$1 million in medical bills after their insurer refused to cover an early birth while they were vacationing in Hawaii. In another case, a B.C. man went on holiday to Las Vegas with what he thought was a bad cold, but found himself in hospital facing $140,000 in medical bills, which his insurer initially refused to pay.

“It happens more frequently than you would like it to happen, and you definitely don’t want to be someone that it happens to,” said Stephen Fine, president of travel insurance agency Snowbird Advisor.

Here are some tips to help ensure you have health coverage when you travel even if you have a pre-existing condition.

1) Look at the fine print of your policy.

Whether you are using the travel insurance from your credit card, from your employer or are seeking out a policy for your trip it is important to understand what is covered. Among the key terms to look for is the company’s definition of a pre-existing condition and how that applies to your current medical status.

Travel insurance is meant to cover unexpected injuries or illnesses, said Dan Keon, vice-president of market management with Allianz Global Assistance.

“The intent isn’t for it to be a continuation of your provincial health insurance or provide coverage for conditions that you were already being treated for before you left,” he said.

Most standard policies have a “stability” clause, which refers to a defined period of time that your medical condition must be  “stable” and unchanged before you travel in order to be covered, Fine said. The period can vary between policies, from as short as seven days or as long as a year, he added. A change can be as small as an increased medication dosage or if you have had medical tests for which you are awaiting the results, Fine added.

“That is a change in your medical condition and anything resulting from that medical issue wouldn’t be covered under your policy,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t know that.”

2) Be truthful and up front about your medical status.

Signing up for travel insurance likely includes a questionnaire about your medical history, and those selling the policy may downplay the significance of those questions, such as whether you have consulted a doctor within the last 12 months, said David Share, a lawyer who specializes in insurance claims.

When a medical claim is filed, if the insurer finds some contradicting information between your answers and health records, that may be used as grounds to leave you on the hook for hospital bills.

“If they see something that was in there chest pains you didn’t disclose you have no coverage. ‘We’re denying it because you misrepresented your health’,” Share said.

3) Call the insurer to ask about your specific situation, then get things in writing.

To clarify whether you are at risk of not being covered, experts recommend calling your insurer to tell them you are travelling and to ask questions about the level of coverage in your particular situation. Once you get clarification, request a response in writing, such as in an e-mail, Share said.

“Because in the event of a claim, a phone call is not going to be worth the paper it’s written on,” he added.

4) Seek out a special insurance policy if you need to _ but be prepared to pay.

If you have had recent medical issues but are still planning to travel, there are options which have a shorter stability period, or don’t require a person’s condition to be stable at all.

The added flexibility, however, may come with a steeper price but can sometimes be cheaper, depending on the policy, said Fine.

Generally, the price will go up as the stability period is reduced, said Keon.

5) If your condition changes before you leave, update your insurer.

Even after you have purchased a policy, you are obligated to update your insurance provider on any changes to your medical condition, Fine said. If there is a significant change, the insurance company may increase the premiums or in extreme cases cancel the policy all together, he added.

“It’s better to know that ahead of time, rather than to take a chance and leave on your trip and find out after the fact.”

Winter Storm Causes over $39 Million in Insured Damage in Eastern Canada

A winter storm from January 23 to 25 that caused significant snowfall, freezing rain, rain and strong winds in eastern Canada has caused over $39 million in insured damage, according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. Most of the damage occurred on January 24 in QuebecNew Brunswick (NB) and Nova Scotia(NS) and was caused by flooding and strong winds. Insured damaged was close to $26 million in Quebec, over $11 million in NB, $2.1 million in NS and $270,000 in PEI.

Strong winds in NS and NB resulted in widespread power outages. NS Power reported 12,000 customers without power, and NB Power reported about 5,300 customers without power. In Moncton, NB, eight people had to evacuate an apartment building after strong winds ripped off part of the roof. Heavy rain also resulted in significant flooding in many regions of southern NB, which led to evacuations and road closures.

There were reports of submerged vehicles in Miramichi, NB, and multiple reports of road flooding in Montreal. About 42,000 Hydro-Québec customers were without power as were many residents in the Ottawa region.

As the financial cost of a changing climate rises, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is advocating for increased investment by all orders of government in mitigating the future impacts of extreme weather and building resiliency to its damaging effects. This includes advocating for new infrastructure to protect communities from floods and fires, improved building codes, better land-use planning, and incentives to shift the development of homes and businesses away from areas of highest risk.

IBC reminds Canadians that it is not only insurers who foot the bill for severe weather damage. For every dollar paid out in insurance claims for homes and businesses, IBC estimates that Canadian governments pay out $3 to recover public infrastructure damaged by severe weather.

Visit IBC’s website for information on how to prepare for a disaster and ways to prevent flood damage to your home.

The amount of insured damage is an estimate provided by CatIQ Inc. www.catiq.com under license to IBC.

Quotes

“Severe weather events driven by climate change are happening more frequently and with greater intensity, especially storms involving floods and severe wind. While the insured damage from these storms is significant, the total economic cost to homeowners and governments is even greater. It is important that consumers take precautions and secure their property to minimize potential damage. They should also understand their insurance policies, and know whether they have overland flood coverage. It’s key to know what’s covered before storms like these, or other catastrophes, strike.”
     – Amanda Dean, Vice-President, Atlantic, IBC

“As a society we have to adapt to this new reality: the number of extreme weather events continues to increase. Canadians need to understand the financial and physical risks they and their families are exposed to. Better building codes, increased risk awareness and infrastructure improvements are all needed to make our communities more resilient. Consumers will also benefit from a better knowledge of what they can do in and around their homes to protect against the wrath of Mother Nature.”     
     – Pierre Babinsky, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Quebec, IBC

About Insurance Bureau of Canada

Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers. Its member companies make up 90% of the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market in Canada. For more than 50 years, IBC has worked with governments across the country to help make affordable home, auto and business insurance available for all Canadians. IBC supports the vision of consumers and governments trusting, valuing and supporting the private P&C insurance industry. It champions key issues and helps educate consumers on how best to protect their homes, cars, businesses and properties.

P&C insurance touches the lives of nearly every Canadian and plays a critical role in keeping businesses safe and the Canadian economy strong. It employs more than 126,000 Canadians, pays $9 billion in taxes and has a total premium base of $54.7 billion.

SOURCE Insurance Bureau of Canada

$170,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Hip Injury, PTSD, TOS and Chronic Pain

Source: Erik Magraken BC Injury and ICBC Claims Blog

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a plaintiff who suffered a host of injuries in a vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Firman v. Asadi) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2013 collision.  The Defendant denied fault but was found liable at trial.  The collision resulted in multiple injuries including a torn labrum, thoracic outlet syndrome, PTSD and chronic pain.  Prognosis for full recovery was poor.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $170,000 Mr. Justice Verhoeven provided the following reasons:

[145]     Based upon the abundant medical evidence as well as the evidence of the plaintiff and other evidence of the lay witnesses, I find that the plaintiff’s injuries that she attributes to the MVA and as reported to the treatment providers and medical experts were caused by the MVA.

[146]     As noted, there is much overlap in the specific diagnoses found in the medical evidence.  In more general terms, the plaintiff’s injuries sustained in the MVA are: (1) left hip injury, including torn labrum, requiring surgery;  (2) TOS or thoracic outlet syndrome, requiring surgery, and with further surgery recommended; (3) whiplash injuries (myofascial pain syndrome, mechanical spine pain) and resultant chronic pain, particularly in her upper back, left shoulder, and arm; (4) left shoulder tendinopathy; (5) chronic headaches; (6) mood or psychological/psychiatric disorders, including depression, somatic symptom disorder, and anxiety.

[147]     The defendants dispute the diagnosis of PTSD, made by Dr. Schweighofer. Dr. Iso noted PTSD “symptoms”.  In the circumstances of this case, the question of whether the plaintiff fully meets the criteria for this diagnosis is of little practical consequence. Dr. Waraich noted that her symptoms meet the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD, with one exception. He states that, while a diagnosis of delayed onset PTSD could be made, in his view her PTSD symptoms are “better accounted for” by the diagnoses that he makes: depressive disorder, and somatic symptom disorder. However, he added:

…in my opinion, her future course and potential treatment of PTSD symptoms are relevant despite her not meeting full criteria for PTSD in my assessment.

[148]     The prognosis for substantial improvement is poor…

[218]     The evidence discloses that the plaintiff has suffered a very substantial non-pecuniary loss.  She is now only marginally able to continue with her former occupations, and passions in life, fitness training and barbering. Her physical and psychological injuries as outlined previously are substantial, and likely permanent to a large extent at least.  She has endured a great deal of pain and suffering, which will continue indefinitely. She has undergone two surgeries and a third surgery is likely, since it is recommended and the plaintiff says she plans to undergo it.

[219]     Her injuries and their consequences have quite dramatically affected her former lifestyle and her personality. She was previously very physically active. She participated in marathon runs and triathlons, operated a fitness business, and engaged in a number of sporting activities. She was independent and took pride in being able to support herself and her younger daughter, who continues to be a dependant. I referred earlier to the change in her personality noted by the witnesses. She is no longer outgoing, social, energetic and happy, as she was before.

[220]     Her homemaking capacity has been impacted. She testified that pre-accident she kept a tidy household. This is corroborated by Mr. MacDonald and her daughter. She no longer has the ability to maintain a tidy household. Now her house is messy.

[221]     On the other hand, she is far from completely debilitated, and there is a chance her condition will improve, with appropriate treatment.  Her pre-accident condition was not perfect, (in particular, she had symptomatic spinal degeneration, and headaches) and there was some risk that her conditions could have affected her detrimentally in future, as they had pre-accident.  They might have worsened.  …

[231]     Having regard to the case authorities I have referred to, I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $170,000.

Nearly 1 in 3 surveyed Canadians report having been victimized by financial fraudsters

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Misleading insurance myths about ‘severe weather’ flooding distract us from real problems

Opinion: Claims that rising frequency and intensity of storms is causing rise in payouts not based on science

Robert J. Muir

Flooding and the damage it can cause are of concern for good reason, and we all share the desire to mitigate the losses caused by flooding. However, the contention of Craig Stewart of the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) in a recent op-ed in these pages, that increases in the frequency and intensity of severe weather are the cause of rising insurance claims, is iill-founded

First, the IBC has promoted its “Telling the Weather Story” report claiming that weather events that once occurred every 40 years now occur every six years in parts of the country, citing the source for that claim as Environment Canada data. This claim was based on nothing more than a hypothesized shift in a probability distribution, with no foundation in fact. Environment Canada corrected this IBC claim in Canadian Underwriter, and Canada’s largest insurers no longer repeated the IBC claim after they were made aware of the data.

IBC does not help its members by ignoring the real causes of flooding or hyping unfounded storm intensity and flood loss correlations at the expense of sound science and engineering

Second, the CBC Ombudsman concluded that CBC reports on the topic were incorrect in reporting insurance-industry claims that increases in the frequency and intensity of severe weather are the source of these rising insurance claims costs. In his op-ed, Mr. Stewart argued that the ombudsman used only one source to reach his conclusion. But that source, Environment Canada, compiles many other papers that have the same finding that there has been no change in severe weather events.

Furthermore, 10 studies in southern Ontario alone, by leading universities, municipalities and engineering consultants, have shown no change in storm design intensities that drive flood damages. When rainfall trends are extended to incorporate more recent data, including 2013 extremes, it is seen that there is no increasing trend in observed maximum rainfall amounts to support IBC’s repeated hypothesis that storms are on the rise.

The accompanying chart shows the trend from Toronto’s Pearson Airport meteorological station. Despite the 2013 extreme, the overall trend is still downward when recent data are considered.

The observance of correlation is too often used to declare causation, such as IBC claiming rain intensity as the cause of greater flood losses. While IBC may be confident in its loss numbers (even though 1990s values are not as robust as values compiled since 2008), it cites absolutely no rain data to correlate with those losses. Thus, IBC skipped right over correlation and claimed causation.

This is not science.

If losses have doubled since the 1990s, we must also look to the science of hydrology for an explanation. Unlike storm trends, urbanization and intensification have increased by significant factors for many decades and logically explain greater urban runoff and flood risk. We must accurately characterize the true causes of flooding to focus on the most effective solutions. If engineers ignore the facts and design flood mitigation infrastructure according to IBC’s falsely claimed frequency shift of 40 to six years, or the new unfounded claim that storms are more intense since 2009, scarce public resources would be diverted to over-designed, unnecessary works, delaying or even preventing implementation of reasonably sized infrastructure that is greatly needed.

Should governments focus on mitigation due to a “weather story” about bigger storms, they may do so at the expense of timely and effective adaptation strategies focused on the real problems.

IBC does not help its members by ignoring the real causes of flooding or hyping unfounded storm intensity and flood loss correlations at the expense of sound science and engineering.

Robert J. Muir, P. Eng is an Ontario municipal engineer and member of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers

ICBC, police and government continue to find new ways to tackle distracted driving

ICBC, police and government continue to find new ways to tackle distracted driving

With more than one in four fatal crashes on B.C. roads involving driver distraction, ICBC, police and government continue to look for solutions to combat this dangerous driving behaviour that claims 77 lives each year.*

Crashes reached a record high in 2017, with many of these caused by distracted or inattentive driving. Distracted driving involves any non-driving activity that reduces a driver’s ability to focus on the road or control their vehicle, and is the leading contributing factor in police-reported injury crashes in B.C.

As part of the commitment to make roads safer, ICBC is inviting eligible drivers to participate in a telematics pilot project starting this summer. The goal is to determine whether using this technology can improve road safety and driving behaviour for inexperienced drivers in B.C.

Eligibility is based on driving experience and will be open to all drivers entering the novice stage of the Graduated Licensing Program and for drivers who have held a full drivers license for less than five years. The project was originally announced in November, and further details, including the telematics vendor, will be released later this spring.

The B.C. government, police and ICBC conduct two distracted driving education and enhanced enforcement campaigns every year. The campaigns also include advertising and social media support.

This month, drivers will be hearing one united message – take a break from your phone when you’re behind the wheel. Enhanced police enforcement of distracted driving will take place across B.C., including a province-wide blitz on Friday, and community volunteers are conducting Cell Watch deployments to remind drivers to leave their phone alone when driving.

Drivers can do their part by avoiding distractions while driving and encouraging others to do the same. Activate Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature or what’s similarly available on other devices. Free ‘not while driving’ decals are available at ICBC driver licensing offices and participating Autoplan broker offices for drivers to support the campaign and encourage other road users to leave their phones alone.

You can view tips and statistics in an infographic at icbc.com, and register your interest in participating in the pilot project at icbc.com/driverpilot.

Quotes:

David Eby, Attorney General

“Distracted driving endangers the lives of British Columbians with devastating effects for families and communities. It also puts significant pressure on insurance rates. That’s why we introduced tougher penalities for distracted drivers last year. Improving road safety is key to creating a sustainable auto insurance system with more affordable rates for everyone.”

Police Chief Neil Dubord, Chair B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee

“Since 2010, police have issued more than 370,000 tickets for electronic device use, which tells us that distracted and inattentive driving continues to be an ongoing issue on B.C. roads. Police will be out in full force this month ensuring you to put your phone away when you’re behind the wheel.”

Lindsay Matthews, ICBC’s Vice-President Public Affairs

“This telematics pilot project will enable us to better understand the role that technology can play in reducing distraction and preventing crashes for inexperienced drivers. But safer roads start with every driver making a conscious decision to focus on the road and leave their phones alone. You’re five times more likely to crash if you’re using your phone while driving. Let’s all do our part to create a safer driving culture in B.C.”

Regional statistics*:

  • Every year, on average, 27 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the Lower Mainland.

  • Every year, on average, 10 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes on Vancouver Island.

  • Every year, on average, 28 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the Southern Interior.

  • Every year, on average, 13 people are killed in distracted driving-related crashes in the North Central region.


Editor’s note:
 Photo/video opportunities of police blitz in Surrey, White Rock and North Vancouver on March 1st. Please contact ICBC for details.

*Police data from 2013 to 2017. Distraction: where one or more of the vehicles involved had contributing factors including use of communication/video equipment, driver inattentive and driver internal/external distraction.

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