“I would not take out a travel insurance policy without having my lawyer and my doctor both go over it.”
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
At least one Canadian recovering in hospital from injuries sustained in the mass shootings in Las Vegas could face “catastrophic” medical bills. Sheldon Mack of Victoria, who did not buy travel medical insurance for his trip with friends to celebrate his 21st birthday, has had surgery to remove his colon and is waiting to be cleared to travel home.
It’s unclear what Mack’s hospital bill may be or what kind of help he may get from governments in Canada and the United States. But a $25 travel insurance policy could have eased any worries, says travel insurance expert Robin Ingle.
“The cost is low. A young person travelling for a week might be $20 or $25,” he said, with coverage up to C$10 million. A senior might pay $50 or a family can be covered for $100.
That pales in comparison to medical bills, which can mount quickly and drastically, Ingle told CTV’s Your Morning Friday. Specialized surgery can cost up to US$200,000 and each day in a bed is between US$3,000 to $5,000. A simple over-the-counter pain reliever can cost $10.
Hudson Mack, Sheldon’s father, says he fears his son’s intensive medical care will mean a “catastrophic” hospital bill.
“It’s a lesson to Canadians to not cross the border without coverage,” Mack, a former CTV anchor, told The Canadian Press.
Provincial governments will cover some medical costs abroad and many Canadians have employee benefits with travel medical insurance for travel out of province or country, said Ingle.
“The issue with that is you have to know how to activate it and you have to know what’s covered in it. You’ll have to go to your employee benefit administrator or go to your HR department and ask questions. A lot of times it’s hard to find the emergency assistance number and that’s not made easy.”
Additional options include insurance through banks and other financial services providers, CAA, or credit cards. Some providers offer annual travel plans, too.
Ingle, who is CEO of Ingle International, says travellers should be aware of their policy limits. Most will exclude unstable, pre-existing medical conditions and won’t cover risky activities, including hang-gliding, parachuting, scuba diving without certification, or climbing mountains. Travel to dangerous countries is also often not covered.
Ingle expects that in the case of the horror in Las Vegas, in which four Canadians are among 59 people killed and at least six Canadians are among the estimated 515 wounded in a mass shooting at a country music festival, there will be some special compassion shown when it comes to medical bills.
“This is a political issue too. Look in Las Vegas, I think there are more than a million Canadians that go to Las Vegas, they travel there. First of all, Nevada, Las Vegas and the U.S. government won’t want to have a problem with this. The Canadian government also has a program. They’ll apply $10,000 formally towards Canadian victims of crime when they are outside of Canada.”
Ingle also believes American hospitals and healthcare providers will “come to the table on this.”
Nevada also has a fund for victims of violent crime who don’t have insurance.
But Canadians shouldn’t expect much support from their provincial coverage, where the daily coverage ranges from between $50 and $400 depending on the province, Will McAleer, president of Canada’s Travel Health Insurance Association told The Canadian Press.
“The amounts that you’d be paid for under a provincial medical plan are certainly insignificant, they’re almost non-existent.”
He said intensive medical care for an emergency such as a critical gunshot wound can cost upwards of $10,000 an hour as teams of specialists go into action.
“For significant emergencies, it’s not even a fraction of the coverage.”
A number of Las Vegas shooting victims, including Mack, have individual crowdfunding campaigns (https://www.gofundme.com/a-cdn-in-the-us-help-sheldon-mack )set up for them. Money is also being raised online for Ryan Sarrazin of Camrose, Alta., (https://www.gofundme.com/ryan-sarrazin ) who, according to a GoFundMe page, was “seriously injured” after being shot at the concert.
“This fund is to assist medical and travel expenses for Ryan and his family,” Tamara Johnson said on the funding page, which surpassed its goal and now sits at more than $77,000.
Braden Matejka from Lake Country, B.C., has also started a GoFundMe campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/3anau-las-vegas-shooting) with a goal of $25,000, saying on the page that the money will help cover his required time off work and other recovery costs after being shot in the back of the head.
The Las Vegas Victims’ Fund online (https://www.gofundme.com/dr2ks2-las-vegas-victims-fund), set up by an American businessman and politician has already raised more than $9.6 million of its $15-million goal.
An RBC Insurance survey earlier this year found that 75 per cent of Canadians planning to travel internationally in 2017 would purchase travel insurance. A majority of those who said they wouldn’t buy travel insurance indicated they are already covered through employee benefits or a credit card. Another 15 per cent said they were willing to take their chances.
In addition to bill coverage, travel insurance providers will contact next of kin, manage care with doctors and hospitals, and arrange flights home.
With files from The Canadian Press
NICK EAGLAND | Vancouver Sun
Canadian travellers injured in mass-casualty events such as Sunday’s shooting in Las Vegas could face financial devastation without travel insurance.
Six Canadians were among more than 500 people who were injured in the deadly attack Sunday night, including 21-year-old Sheldon Mack of Victoria. Mack was in intensive care Monday after he was shot twice and suffered a ruptured colon and broken forearm.
Also injured were Jan Lambourne of Teulon, Man., Jody Ansell of Stonewall, Man., Steve Arruda of Calgary, Alta., Carrie-Lynn Denis of Leoville, Sask. and Ryan Sarrazin of Camrose, Alta.
Will McAleer, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, said a typical travel insurance policy, which can cost a few dollars per day, will “absolutely” cover emergency treatment for significant trauma such as gunshot wounds, which can require intensive surgery, rehabilitation and air evacuation, otherwise costing upwards of US$300,000.
McAleer said travel insurance is also important because it provides assistance services that help people navigate health care systems abroad, where they may need someone advocating for them and acting as a point of contact for family members at home.
He recommends travellers carry copies of their policies with them at all times or use their smartphones to photograph their policy number and insurer’s emergency contact information.
McAleer said it’s vital to plan ahead and protect yourself with insurance when travelling, no matter the destination.
“The sad part, that I think we’re facing, is that this is sort of becoming the new normal,” McAleer said.
“We think, ‘Be careful before you travel to a risky place,’ maybe the Middle East, et cetera. But now, whether it’s Orlando, London, New York City — whether it’s Edmonton — these things are happening with increased frequency.”
Global Affairs Canada advised anyone in Las Vegas who needs emergency consular assistance to call the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles at 1-844-880-6519 or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa directly at 1-613-996-8885.
— Nick Eagland with files from Canadian Press
A Kitchener, Ont. man who ended up in hospital while visiting family in the United States has learned the hard way that drinking alcohol can nullify your claim to insurance coverage.
Ernie Ceres flew down to New York on Sept. 18 for a family funeral and spent the first evening visiting with his brother, whom he hadn’t seen in several years.
According to his girlfriend Lucy Reis, who stayed behind in Cambridge, Ont., Ceres was drinking with his brother before he left to spend the night at his son’s house.
“Ernie told his son to go ahead, because he’s a little bit slow,” Reis said. “The next thing he knew is his dad had fallen down at least ten to 12 stairs.”
Ceres was unconscious and was rushed to Kings County Hospital, where doctors discovered bleeding in his brain.
Ceres was a frequent traveller and Reis said that for the past four or five years he had been buying CAA’s multi-trip annual plan travel insurance.
Alcohol exclusion clause
A few days after calling them, she says she was told that the claim had been denied, because Ceres had too much alcohol in his blood at the time of the fall.
According to CAA’s travel insurance policy, the provider does not have to pay medical expenses in the case of “alcohol related sickness, death or injury or the abuse of medication, drugs, alcohol or any other toxic substance.”
Also, according to the policy, “alcohol abuse includes having a blood alcohol level in excess of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.”
Exclusion not stated up front
It is unclear what Ceres’s blood alcohol level was when he was admitted to hospital; however, if it was over 0.08 per cent, it would give CAA cause to deny his claim.
‘You’ve got to know what you’re buying.’– Marvin Ryder, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship
But Reis said that CAA did not tell Ceres that drinking could nullify his claim to insurance coverage, and for that reason the company should pay for the health care he is receiving in the United States.
“He’s purchased a product and not been informed,” she said. “I understand that some of it was his responsibility to read the fine print, but let’s be serious, people buy insurance all the time and you just expect the person you’re buying it from is selling you a product that they’re going to stand by.”
Consumer responsible to know
When asked whether CAA was obligated to tell Ceres that drinking could affect his insurance eligibility, industry experts all agreed that the company was not liable.
According to the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, it is the traveller’s responsibility to know what their policy does and does not cover.
“You need to understand your policy and you need to take time to read that policy document,” said association president Will McAleer. “In this case, I certainly would have thought there would have been the opportunity and responsibility to take a look and see whether or not there is an exclusion related to excess alcohol consumption.”
You must read fine print
The policy document for CAA’s travel health insurance is more than 50 pages long and is available online. The exclusion related to alcohol is on page 14.
“Is it realistic to read all of this? Maybe it’s not,” said Marvin Ryder, a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship with the Degroote School of Business in Hamilton, Ont. “On the other hand, you’ve got to know what you’re buying. You can’t assume that what you’ve bought or what you think you bought is what you actually did buy.”
‘No one says in these things that you can’t have a drink. The problem is the magic word ‘drunk’, ‘intoxication.”– Marvin Ryder
And he said that reading through insurance policies is actually a lot easier than it was 30 or 40 years ago, when they were written by lawyers.
“Unless you had a law degree you wouldn’t understand it,” he said. “Today, though – 2017 – all these insurance companies have hired communication specialists to take the legalese, if you will, and try to translate it into more basic English so that people would understand.”
‘Drunk’ is the problem
As a result, he said consumers are expected to read, understand and know what to expect from their insurance provider.
If your provider is CAA, that means your blood alcohol content can’t be higher than 0.08 per cent, which is used as the criminal impairment level for drivers in Canada, although Ontario considers a level of 0.05 per cent as reason to take a driver off the road. Ryder said the limit may be different for other providers. And currently the federal government is consulting with Queen’s Park to lower the impaired driving legal limit to 0.05 per cent.
“No one says in these things that you can’t have a drink. The problem is the magic word ‘drunk,’ intoxication,” he said. “If you’re planning to get intoxicated – then you need to know that those actions could nullify your insurance.”
And Ryder said that having alcohol in your blood could nullify your insurance claim even if your injury or sickness was not related to drinking.
‘There’s all those maybe, could-have, should-haves. So, that’s why they’ve drawn this line this way. If your alcohol level is too high in your blood stream, your insurance is cancelled.’– Marvin Ryder
“In other words, if you have a heart attack while intoxicated, but the intoxication didn’t cause the heart attack – nonetheless your insurance is null and void,” he said.
The reason is that in medicine, it’s hard to know what is a contributing factor. A person might trip, fall and end up in the hospital, but would the person have tripped if they had a lower blood alcohol level? Ryder said that’s a difficult question to answer.
“There’s all those maybe, could-have, should-haves. So, that’s why they’ve drawn this line this way. If your alcohol level is too high in your blood stream, your insurance is cancelled.”
CAA says claim is open, not denied
In theory, high alcohol in Ceres blood could give CAA cause to deny his insurance claim, but a spokesperson from the company told CBC News that the claim would be considered if alcohol was not the cause of the fall.
In fact, Director of Corporate Communications Tony Tsai said Ceres’s claim had not been denied, but that it was still open.
“It really depends on what was the cause of the injury or what was the suspected cause of the injury,” he said. “We’re still waiting to get all that data back from them.”
Although Ceres did have alcohol in his blood when he fell, Reis said doctors are suggesting that the fall was caused by pre-existing bleeding in his brain. If that was the case, it may be the information CAA needs to approve the claim.
In the meantime, Ceres remains in a New York hospital, where his expenses continue to accumulate. Reis said that the last she checked, the hospital bill had reached almost $100,000.
There are cases where buying travel insurance might leave you bereft of coverage. Here are a few examples.
Canadian snowbirds who were lucky enough to escape property damage from Hurricane Irma will still face higher costs as insurance providers jack up premiums and condo associations levy special assessments, say Florida insurance experts.
“We’re probably looking at an across-the-board 15 to 20 per cent increase in property insurance costs over the next year,” says Brad Hubbard, the Tampa owner of an insurance agency and an engineering consulting firm specializing in flood risk.
He said the higher premiums could come from greater insurance losses and reinsurance companies determining there is a statistical increase in the risk that future storms will be more frequent and severe.
Hurricane Irma is expected to be one of the most costly storms in history, with losses estimated at $20 billion to $65 billion (all figures in U.S. dollars), including up to $50 billion in the U.S., according to risk modelling software company AIR Worldwide.
Additional insurance costs will be borne by all insured Florida homeowners, including the estimated 500,000 Canadians who own Florida properties.
Condo owners could also face special assessments if their building sustains heavy damage that isn’t fully covered by insurance or its policy has a high deductible.
“Your condo can be fine but at the end of the year you could receive a bill that says $3,500,” added Martin Rivard, an insurance broker in Boynton Beach originally from Shawinigan, Que.
The situation could be especially acute in areas like the Florida Keys, where 25 per cent of homes were destroyed by heavy winds and storm surge.
“I’m hoping that Irma was a wake-up call,” he said in an interview.
The average price of homeowner’s insurance in high-risk wind areas of Florida is $2,055 or $1,500 if you buy through Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, a state-run provider. Flood coverage premiums average $450, providing coverage of $250,000 on the structure and $100,000 for the contents, says the Insurance Information Institute.
Canadians are eligible to buy homeowner’s insurance from Citizens Property Insurance and flooding insurance from the federal National Flood Insurance Programs. Only 16 per cent of Americans purchase flood insurance and less than 10 per cent have no insurance at all.
Canadians were eager to buy insurance after Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida in 1992, but Rivard said the concern has waned because the state hasn’t experienced a big storm in about a decade.
Renee and Dino Picchioni are relieved their mobile home north of Tampa was spared because they didn’t carry any insurance.
“It’s too expensive to pay for insurance down there for four months out of the year,” Renee said from Windsor, Ont.
Since they don’t own the land where their mobile home is parked, the couple was prepared to walk away if the unit was destroyed.
Rivard expects many others will do the same if their insurance doesn’t cover repair costs.
Realtor Jass Tremblay of Marathon said most of the Canadian customers she knows in the Keys don’t have insurance. While people with a mortgage are required to have insurance that covers wind, they can roll the dice if they pay cash.
Tremblay, a Quebec City native, said she hopes those without coverage would have put money aside so they can face such a disaster.
“Some of them lost everything. They’re probably panicking,” Tremblay said from Deerfield Beach where she holed up during the storm.
Brent Leathwood, a realtor in Sarasota who is originally from Burlington, Ont., said about 80 per cent of his Canadian customers are fully insured even though tougher building codes after Hurricane Andrew have helped to minimize damage.
“Canadians tend to be, I would say, sober and pragmatic in their assessments of things and they’re a little less inclined to take big, crazy risks like some of the people in the States are.”
Florida’s insurance system has been strengthened since Hurricane Andrew as the number of people living in coastal areas surged 27 per cent between 2000 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We feel that we’re in the best position we can be in at this time,” said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Florida’s public insurance provider.