TORONTO – Ontario is pushing ahead with a plan to eliminate basic out-of-country travel insurance, saying the program is very costly and does not provide value to taxpayers.
The insurance currently covers out-of-country inpatient services to a maximum of $400 per day for a higher level of care, and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient services and doctor services.
Health Minister Christine Elliot announced the decision to scrap the program on Wednesday, following a six-day public consultation.
The province spends $2.8 million to administer approximately $9 million in claim payments through the program every year.
“We know that is not good value for Ontarians,” Elliott said. “People should be making their own plans to obtain coverage, which can be obtained quite inexpensively and provide them with full compensation if they sustain any health problems while out of the country.”
The change is expected to come into effect Oct. 1.
Elliott said a broader public outreach effort will be needed to remind travellers to purchase health insurance before they leave the country.
“I think many people didn’t even know there was any level of coverage before,” she said. “But it is important and we will have a public campaign to advise people because we don’t want people to have that unfortunate shock if they have a health problem while out of country, to have those costs which can be quite extraordinarily high.”
Opposition politicians have said ending the program will hurt snowbirds and frequent travellers.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath criticized the move, saying it was part of the province’s larger plan to reduce health-care spending.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said people deserve to have health coverage wherever they are, at home or travelling abroad.
“Changes to the program are essentially equivalent to taking away health insurance from people,” he said.
Last week, the Canadian Snowbird Association urged the government not to make the move and said it would not only impact the snowbird community who travel south during the winter months, but also cross-border shoppers and anyone planning a family vacation.
In her 2018 report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said the Ministry of Health processed an average of 88,000 out-of-country claims per year over a five year period and paid an average of $127 per claim.
Lysyk also noted the high administrative costs of the program, but said they arise because staff must check varying physician services fee rates and process claims manually. She recommended that the government seek ways to reduce administrative costs by adopting a single reimbursement rate for all health services obtained out-of-country.
She also recommended the government bolster efforts to inform Ontarians of the limit on reimbursement rates under the program and on the need to purchase private health insurance before travelling.