TORONTO — With a growing number of destinations now requiring COVID-19-specific travel insurance prior to entry, Canadians are left scratching their heads over the following conundrum: how do they visit their desired destination when they still can’t get coverage for Covid?
Destinations like Costa Rica, Curaçao, Aruba, and Turks and Caicos are just the latest to announce mandatory ‘Covid coverage’ for travellers prior to entry as a way to ensure that their health care systems don’t buckle under the rising cost of treatment. But with Canada’s advisory against non-essential travel still in place, the vast majority of insurers are unable to actually cover travellers for any Covid-related expenses, including treatment, quarantine costs and extended stays.
So where does that leave Canadians? Borders are slowly starting to reopen, Canada’s top airlines have launched abridged flight programs, and hotels and resorts have reopened their doors. Two insurance providers – Blue Cross Ontario/Quebec and B2C insurer Medipac – even announced last month new COVID-19 coverage as part of select polices. But with no end in sight to Canada’s travel advisory, which has been in place since March, the consensus among Canada’s top insurance providers has largely been to follow suit and respect the government’s policies.
“The federal government’s COVID-19 related global ‘Avoid Unnecessary Travel’ advisory is still in force. As a result, travel insurers have been urging Canadians to follow these directives, in part because many travel health insurance policies contain limitations and exclusions that are linked to Government of Canada travel advisories,” says Kevin Dorse, Assistant Vice President, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), a voluntary trade association whose member companies account for 99% of Canada’s life and health insurance businesses.
“Our industry understands that people are beginning to make plans for international travel, particularly once the travel advisories are lifted. Notably, some insurers are beginning to bring travel products to cover COVID-19 related conditions to market.”
CLHIA is advising travellers to check with their insurer to see if their travel insurance includes treatment related to COVID-19 outside Canada, as well as to consider ‘cancel for any reason’ trip cancellation coverage that’s more flexible – and admittedly more expensive – around reasons for trip cancellation.
Dan Keon, Vice President, Market Management at Allianz Global Assistance, tells Travelweek that from a medical standpoint, the response from insurers has been fairly consistent across the market.
“The way that medical benefits work is that if there is a travel advisory in place for your destination before you leave or on your date of departure, you’re not covered for anything related to that travel advisory,” he says. “That’s why most insurers right now, if you were to travel, wouldn’t allow for coverage for emergency medical related to Covid because of this international travel advisory being in place.”
However, Keon is also assuring travel agents and travellers that if/when the Canadian government lifts the non-essential travel advisory, Allianz will immediately start offering ‘Covid coverage,’ though not in those specific terms.
“We’re not calling it Covid coverage – it will just be part of the medical emergency benefits and include all of the same benefits, like hospital expenses and in-patient expenses if you’re admitted to hospital,” he says.
Keon notes, however, that no additional benefits have been implemented or created to cover hotel accommodations should a traveller have to quarantine for two weeks, for example.
“There have been no changes to the policy in terms of that. It’s basically the same medical coverage, it’ll just be a matter of Covid not being a covered condition. Once the advisory goes away, Covid would be eligible in the same way an earache or the flu or a heart attack or anything else would be.”
When asked if a policy holder, in the event of the advisory lifting, would need to upgrade their existing policy prior to departure to include Covid coverage, Keon says they wouldn’t need to.
“If they bought a policy now and the advisory’s in place, it’s not about whether or not the advisory’s in place at your time of purchase, but rather whether or not it’s in place on your date of departure,” he says. “So if they bought the policy now and accepted the fact that they’re not covered for Covid, but then that advisory lifts two days before they travel, their policy would then cover Covid because there’d be no advisory in place on their departure date. It would be an automatic thing because it’s built within the policy wording, which only comes into play if the advisory’s in place or not.”
But for travellers who choose to travel right now, with the travel advisory still in place – what then? How do they obtain Covid-related coverage in order to meet mandatory insurance requirements in destination?
Keon notes that it’s very difficult to make statements regarding what they should be doing about mandatory insurance and how to get around this new requirement because “the reality is, these travel advisories are in place for a reason.” But when they do eventually lift, Allianz will be ready for the influx of insurance inquiries.
“Our sales are so directly tied to travel sales overall. As soon as travel opens up and people begin booking travel, assuming that they’ll be booking because advisories have lifted, it will be inevitable that policies will start attaching again and travel agents will be able to offer them again,” he adds.
“Further to that, it’s more important than ever for people to read and understand their coverage and ask questions to their travel agents before they leave so that if they do run into a situation when they’re travelling, they’re not finding out that there are limitations that they didn’t expect.”
Keon encourages agents to get in touch with Allianz’ Agency Services team, its dedicated call centre for travel agents, with any questions they may have. Allianz also recently sent out a communication to agents to clarify and reconfirm its position in anticipation of travel advisories lifting.
“Whenever we’ve had the opportunity, we’ve tried to express our thanks to travel agents for their efforts because they’ve been on the front lines, they’ve been the ones dealing with all the customers’ concerns,” he concludes. “They’ve been extremely resilient and also very collaborative with us as far as providing us with customer feedback. It really has been a collaborative, cooperative effort.”