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.

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.

Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Vancouver Sun | Randy Shore

If you are tempted to take advantage of a cheap flight to COVID-19 hot spots such as Italy or China, you could be paying your own hospital bills if you get sick.

Pacific Blue Cross is warning its clients that that will not be covered for medical expenses related to infectious disease if a travel advisory or health warning for your destination is issued by the Canadian government and publicized before your departure date.

The company advises members to check for government health advisories for their destination.

“If you have or want to purchase travel medical or trip protection insurance or if you are covered under a group travel medical plan, you should be aware of your coverage before you travel,” the company said in a statement.

Canada has issued Level 3 travel advisories for China, Iran and northern Italy to “avoid non-essential travel.” Travelling to a country under a Level 3 or 4 warning typically voids your coverage for medical expenses.

In practice, that means that your medical claims will be honoured as long as there is no Level 3 or 4 advisory for your destination on the effective date of your medical coverage, travel industry insiders say.

A Level 1 travel advisory means exercise normal security precautions, Level 2 advises a high degree of caution. Level 3 advises avoiding non-essential travel, while Level 4 advises Canadians to avoid all travel to the affected region.

Level 1 health notices have been issued for Singapore and Hong Kong, and Level 2 notices are in force for South Korea and Japan.

Confirm the exact terms of your health care and travel coverage with your insurer, as there is considerable variability among companies and policies are changing almost daily in response to the growing crisis.

Canada Life Financial “will continue to assess” claims related to COVID-19, including those that occur during travel to a country with a travel advisory warning.

The company has expedited disability claims related to COVID-19 and is also considering claims from people under quarantine at the direction of a physician, a company official said.

BCAA also will not provide trip cancellation or trip interruption coverage on claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased after March 5. TuGo will not provide coverage for claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased on or after March 4.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, have also recommended that people “avoid all cruise ship travel.”

Canadians who take a cruise against that advice may not be able to return home on a government-organized repatriation flight, or may have to pay the cost of returning should they become ensnared in a quarantine, the agency said.

If the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is detected on your ship, you could be subject to quarantine aboard the ship or in a foreign country under local rules. Your access to consular services may also be limited by local authorities.

Ports in India, Malaysia, Doha, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates have banned cruise ships outright, while many other countries have banned passengers from China, Iran, Italy and Korea from disembarking.

The cruise warning is not a Level 3 advisory, so there are no insurance implications, yet. It’s effect has been devastating, nonetheless.

“That advisory is the single biggest blow to the industry since this virus became headline news,” said travel agent Claire Newell. “I was surprised because there are hundreds and hundreds of ships in regions that haven’t been affected.”

The onslaught of holiday cancellations has triggered an overhaul of the insurance products being offered to travellers, many of them temporary offers.

“A lot of package tour operators are offering worry-free clauses in their cancellation policies,” she said.  “The industry has been hit very hard and they are trying to spur bookings because people are afraid.”

However, the cancellation windows vary from 30 days before departure to as little as 48 hours. Most allow you to rebook free, but do not offer refunds.

Discounts of up to 75 per cent are available for people willing to book a cruise.

“That’s what is going to get people over their fear, a hell of a good deal,” she said, adding that more than 90 per cent of people who are booking a holiday also buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance.

The COVID-19 epidemic is fuelling demand for “self-driving” holidays and Canadian destinations such as Niagara and the Gaspé, as well as destinations such as Iceland, Scotland and South America, where only a handful of cases are confirmed.

“There is a lot of interest in Peru, which is a great bucket list destination,” said Newell.

Federal government to announce supports for people, businesses hit by COVID-19

PM says Ottawa expecting ‘significant economic impacts’ from COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce on Wednesday supports for people and businesses affected by COVID-19 — the first part of a federal package designed to help workers who are forced to stay home from their jobs as the virus spreads and disrupts the economy.

Trudeau will announce supports for those facing “immediate pressures,” with more aid for other sectors to be announced in the coming days.

Sources have told CBC News that the measures Trudeau will announce include waiving the one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance benefits for people who have to self-isolate because of the outbreak.

The package also will include a boost to research funding to combat the virus, over and above the $27 million announced in Montreal last week.

Ottawa is also leading a pan-Canadian effort to bulk-buy certain medical devices, and the federal government says it will be ready to support provinces needing further assistance to shore up their health care systems as the number of confirmed cases rises.

Trudeau met with top ministers this afternoon, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu, as part of the government’s response to a virus that has sickened dozens across Canada and killed one person in B.C.

“We recognize that there are going to be significant economic impacts for Canadians, for workers, for businesses, and that’s why we’re going to be talking very soon about measures that Canada is going to put forward to support people on the economic side,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into question period.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Ottawa is considering stimulus spending in the upcoming federal budget.

Beyond Wednesday’s planned announcement, Duclos said the federal government will spend more to help people “go through the crisis” and help “workers, families and businesses thrive and sustain themselves.”

“We have the fiscal room and the fiscal power to intervene and provide the stimulus that the economy will demand,” Duclos said in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics. “We have the will and the ability to make a difference. We will use our considerable fiscal room and power to invest.”

While the debt-to-GDP ratio has been falling in recent years, Ottawa is running a federal budget deficit of $26.6 billion for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

READ MORE HERE AT CBC NEWS

Canada’s largest airlines waiving fees to change flights because of coronavirus

By Ross Marowits

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Canada’s largest airlines are waiving change fees in light of concerns about the novel coronavirus.

Air Canada says a one-time change is permitted for tickets purchased from the airline between March 4 and March 31 for travel within 12 months.

It also applies to Aeroplan flight reward bookings and Air Canada Vacations has implemented flexible booking policies.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. says the one-time change fee waiver applies to new bookings made between March 5 and March 31.

Air Transat has two policies, including one that applies to Venice, a hot spot for the virus called COVID-19. All customers who booked flights on or before March 2 for travel until June 30 can change their date or destination for a trip until Oct. 31.

Other passengers travelling outside the eco budget fare class can change their travel dates, destination or hotel at no charge for bookings made between March 4 and March 31 for travel through Oct. 31.

“Although almost all of our destinations are very safe and the government of Canada’s advisories currently affect only one of our destinations located in northern Italy, we are aware that the outbreak and progression of the coronavirus may raise questions and even concerns among some travellers,” Transat said in a news release.

“The situation is evolving rapidly, and in order to reassure travellers and enable our clients to carry out their travel plans, we are offering them peace of mind by deploying a highly advantageous flexibility policy.”

Most airlines will waive the fee for changes made at least 14 days before travel. However, Transat passengers can change their booking up to 24 hours before departure.

All airlines require passengers to pay any fare difference between the original and new flights.

Sunwing says its destinations have not been impacted to date but its waiver applies to all new bookings made March 4-19 for flights until June 24.

Sunwing passengers can purchase insurance starting at $50 per person that provides full cancellation coverage up until three hours before departure for any reason.

Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

Canadians are starting to rethink their travel plans as illness spreads

The excerpted article was written by Sophia Harris · CBC News

As the coronavirus spreads globally, Canadians may start rethinking their travel plans. However, pulling the plug could be costly, depending on what type of travel insurance you have.

Here’s what you need to know before cancelling or booking a trip during the coronavirus outbreak.

Consider trip opt-out insurance

Mike Mitchell and his wife, Marlene, started getting cold feet about a month before their Feb. 27 Asian cruise. The coronavirus was already spreading outside China and their three-week cruise included stops in several nearby countries.

The tipping point for the couple was when news broke in early February that passengers were stuck in quarantine for two weeks onboard the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Japan.

The Mitchells’ cabin on their ship had no windows, so they didn’t want to risk the same fate.

“If we were stuck in this inside cabin for two weeks, what would we do? We would go crazy,” said Mike Mitchell, who lives in Victoria. “I thought, ‘There is no way I want to go on this cruise.'”

However, there was a problem. Mitchell had bought travel insurance — even opted for a premium plan which included extra coverage. But it didn’t include a “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR) option, so he’d be on the hook for the entire $5,400 cruise if he and his wife cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

“There was nothing in the rules of the insurance that we could use as an excuse,” said Mitchell. “We would lose all that money.”

Travelling amid coronavirus: What you need to know

Does travel insurance cover the cost of being quarantined? What services do consulates provide? Should you cancel your next vacation? We took your questions about travelling amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak.21:00

While regular trip cancellation insurance protects people if they say, get sick and can’t travel, it typically won’t cover customers who cancel a trip due to fears that something might go wrong — such as catching the coronavirus.

Travel insurance expert Will McAleer said travellers who want extra protection right now should consider purchasing the CFAR option.

“It essentially allows people — just because they don’t have a good feeling — to make changes to their travel plans,” said McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

To note, the CFAR option is an added cost and McAleer warns that it generally won’t cover the full amount of a cancelled trip.

Check Canada’s travel advisories

For travellers who only have regular cancellation insurance, McAleer said they typically will only be covered for a coronavirus-related cancellation if they booked a trip before the Canadian government issues a travel advisory to not travel to, or to avoid non-essential travel to, their destination.

The government has issued an advisory to avoid non-essential travel to China, Iran and parts of South Korea. But that wouldn’t have helped Mitchell, who had none of those destinations on his cruise itinerary.

“You get to the point where you say, ‘OK, well, I guess we’re going to lose our money,'” said Mitchell.

However, his luck changed about a week before the trip when his cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line, sent him an email announcing that it had cancelled the cruise due to growing coronavirus concerns. As a result, Mitchell would get a full refund.

“The weight was off our shoulders,” he said.

Ask for mercy

For travellers who want to cancel their trip and have no travel insurance options, McAleer suggests asking their travel provider for mercy.

“See whether there was anything they could do to change those dates, because what we’re seeing is, airlines and other travel suppliers are becoming much more flexible.”

Currently, Air Canada is waiving the change fee for travellers who want to rebook flights to or from China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy, which have widespread cases of coronavirus.

However, that offer doesn’t help Air Canada passenger Vanessa Le, who was set to fly from Vancouver to Tokyo this past Friday to race in the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday.

On Feb. 17, marathon organizers restricted the race to a small number of elite runners after a case of COVID-19 — the illness caused by the coronavirus — was confirmed in Tokyo.

Le, who lives in Langford, B.C., decided to cancel her trip, which cost $2,400 in airfare for herself and her husband.

She said she called Air Canada repeatedly, but that the airline wouldn’t offer a refund or any other options, because Le had bought a discounted, basic economy ticket — which means no refunds or flight changes are allowed.

“It sucks. It’s a lot of money to lose,” said Le. “We shouldn’t be penalized by Air Canada for taking safety into our hands.”

Air Canada didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for the publication of this story.

A happy ending

Sometimes, persistence does pay off. Saidi Chan of Toronto wasn’t covered by travel insurance when she decided to cancel her two-week Asia cruise with Norwegian, leaving on Feb. 6.

Chan was concerned about the spreading coronavirus and feared her flight home from the cruise’s final destination — Hong Kong — would be cancelled as COVID-19 cases mounted in the region.

At the time, Chan said that Norwegian declined to offer a refund or travel credit. However, Chan persisted by continually calling and emailing the cruise line to make her case, she said.

“I didn’t give up,” said Chan, whose cruise included four family members and totalled $14,000. “I felt like it was very unfair.”

On Feb. 23, she got good news. Although the cruise hadn’t been cancelled, Norwegian informed her family by email that they would receive a full refund for the trip.

“I was very extremely relieved and very happy,” said Chan.

CBC News

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