Industry News > Lack of understanding behind most travel insurance problems

Lack of understanding behind most travel insurance problems

by Susan Yellin - Insurance Journal, posted on 10:09 AM, October 5, 2017

A new Travel Insurance Bill of Rights and Responsibilities crafted by Canada’s Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA) is well meaning and checks all the major boxes, but a big cloud continues to hover over clients who don’t pay enough attention to the travel health questionnaire.

The Bill of Rights, which was published in June, comes on the heels of a report by the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR) outlining reforms for the travel health insurance market. Even before the regulators came out with their report, Brad Dance, vice president of THIA, said the organization’s rights and responsibilities bill was already in the making.

“Some of us in the industry got together and designed this Bill of Rights to give the public an idea of what they can expect from their travel health policy,” Dance said in an interview from Vancouver. “We want them to go away on vacation and have a carefree vacation and ultimately we hope the Bill of Rights will give them the peace of mind [they need] to take off and not have to worry.”

Publicizes critical issues

Probably one of the best results from the Bill of Rights is that it publicizes critical issues, giving potential clients a higher sense of awareness, said Heather Freed, a Toronto-based independent financial advisor, who consults and sells travel insurance.

“For the most part, the misunderstandings stem from the consumer who doesn’t know what they bought,” Freed added.

She gave the example of a person who bought cancellation insurance thinking he would receive every penny back immediately and that he wouldn’t have to contact the airlines to cancel an airplane ticket as well as the hotel overseas.

But what really irks travel insurance advisors is the role that well-intentioned doctors play, said John Wilson with M. Butler Insurance in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Doctors don’t like to worry patients but sometimes they don’t understand how insurance works, said Wilson. He cited an incident in which a patient left her doctor’s office not knowing that the physician made a note in her file suggesting a change in her blood pressure medication that he said the patient declined. An unrelated incident took place but the claim was denied due to a wrong classification on her travel medical questionnaire. 

He gave another example of a son calling for insurance for his father who that very morning had a stent put in and now wanted to go on vacation because the doctor said he was fine to travel.

“Doctors sometimes downplay an illness so as not to scare a patient but that’s why we ask the questions that we do on the medical health questionnaire”.

Do some digging

“My personal approach is that when I start seeing what I call a ‘busy health history’ where the client is in the doctor’s office an awful lot, we need to do some digging” to ensure the client can be covered.

In its May 2017 report, the CCIR said it recognizes that the industry is trying to help reduce instances where consumers are confused. “However, the consumer perception issue…remains a primary concern and needs to be addressed in order to reduce and eliminate existing consumer expectation and knowledge gaps.”

The Bill of Rights outlines 10 rights, including a no-obligation purchase that gives travellers a minimum 10-day free review of the policy, similar to life insurance.

It also gives them the right to fair and prompt claims handling, the number one issue that comes to the THIA, said Dance. “We want to see all claims paid”.

Lack of experience

Freed said another issue for many clients is that they buy insurance from a travel agent who has no or little experience in the insurance industry. “It’s an add-on just like they sell limo tickets to the airport. So many people are buying travel insurance from people who can’t educate them.”

An experienced travel insurance advisor knows to go through a whole set of questions to determine eligibility. Even a change of medication, higher or lower, may mean a person’s health is not stable, she said.

Dance noted that the Bill of Rights allows clients to receive a copy of the answers they provided on the medical questionnaire prior to the start of their policy and then take that information to a physician who can look it over.

“What is critically important is that if [the client does] have questions, they should not assume – ask the questions. Know how things work.”

Freed said most people tend to wait until the last minute to get travel insurance but don’t take the time to find out exactly what it covers or what to do once they are in another country and need to go to a hospital.

Canadian snowbirds

Getting the proper medical coverage is of key interest to Canadian snowbirds. The U.S. is the world’s most expensive health-care system where a significant medical emergency can cost US$10,000 a day, said Dance.

Before taking a trip, Dance said clients need to understand what’s in their travel insurance policy, know their own health and talk to a doctor if they have any questions. As well, clients need to know how long they will be gone and how often they go away, he added.

Clients thinking about travelling can also be steered to the THIA website that has a number of consumer videos and guides on its website (, outlining everything from “what’s a pre-existing condition” to the difference between trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance.

Key points to remember

Wilson provides his clients with some key points to remember when looking over the questionnaire. As an example, he includes tips if a claim should be made for a partial refund, such as making a copy of airline tickets or stopping for gas at the duty free shop if going by car to prove that the client did indeed make the trip.

The THIA Bill of Rights also notes four key responsibilities for travellers, including providing accurate information, understanding their policy, travelling with proof of insurance and the importance of notifying the travel insurance provider when a claim situation arises.

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