TORONTO — There’s no question that travel insurance has played a critical role in travel’s rebound. With many insurance providers offering coverage specifically for COVID-19, travellers have been able to get back on planes and venture abroad with confidence, knowing that their health and safety would be entrusted to medical professionals during a global pandemic.
But with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring last week that the pandemic is finally drawing to a close, a tell-tale sign that COVID-19 has evolved into an everyday part of life, what does this mean for the future of COVID-19 insurance?
“I think as long as there’s a need out there, there will be a product solution for it,” says Will McAleer, Executive Director, Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada. “Take the flu, for example. If you had the flu and needed to seek treatment while travelling, there’d be no need for specific testing to identify it as ‘the flu.’ It’s simply a medical reason for which you needed to seek treatment.
“As we progress in the pandemic, or if the WHO actually removes the pandemic notice, COVID-19 will simply be a coverage that is included within the scope of coverage provided under emergency medical treatment.”
Brad Dance, Chief Customer Officer at TuGo, also agrees, telling Travelweek that COVID-19 coverage is likely here to stay, as coverage for a cold or flu is today under Emergency Medical Insurance. But what might continue to evolve is how the Government of Canada addresses vaccination requirements, as they may impact how some insurance providers determine their future coverage.
“TuGo’s Emergency Medical Insurance has evolved over the last two years to cover COVID-19. We’ve built our policy wording to support the Government of Canada’s vaccination requirements for entry/and or return to Canada. We don’t foresee needing to change this, but we’ll continue to evolve our products to meet our customers’ needs, as needed,” says Dance.
At Ontario Blue Cross, similar guidelines are being followed in alignment with the WHO. Says Josiane Cousineau, Vice-President, Marketing and Customer Experience: “As COVID-19 becomes part of everyday life, our Emergency Medical Care coverage insures COVID-19 and its variants, unless it is considered a pre-existing condition prior to departure.
“Our position is aligned with the WHO’s, meaning as soon as COVID-19 is no longer considered a pandemic by the WHO, this condition will be treated like all other conditions in our contracts.”
But as COVID-19 evolves into just another common medical condition, does this mean COVID-19 testing will be a thing of the past?
McAleer thinks fewer and fewer COVID-19 tests will be required by insurance providers, “unless the benefit is so specific to a COVID-19 diagnosis that the only way to determine whether a traveller has the virus is through a test.”
If testing, however, is a requirement to board a plane or enter a country, McAleer says insurance providers will most likely continue to not cover the cost of the test. But the situation may be different if a traveller falls sick with COVID-19 while in destination, seeks medical attention and a COVID-19 test is ordered by a doctor.
“in this situation, I’m going to say most insurance providers will cover the cost of the test. There are probably a couple of companies that would still take a harsher standpoint and compartmentalize a COVID-19 test as a ‘no-no.’ However, most are taking a prudent approach where they’re saying, ‘If you’re being ordered to take a COVID-19 test and it shows you’re positive, why wouldn’t we go back and cover that test for you?’ Ultimately, it’s a small piece of the overall medical emergency,” says McAleer.
That being said, McAleer suggests shopping around for the travel insurance plan that best fits a traveller’s needs, as COVID-19 coverage can vary from provider to provider. While most providers will cover a traveller for medical emergencies should they require COVID-19-related medical treatment while away, where differences may occur is in the limit for coverage, which can range from anywhere between $100,000 to $5,000,000. Coverage may also differ for those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 versus non-vaccinated, with the limit for payment differing for those who may pose a larger risk should they become sick with COVID-19.
And going beyond coverage for medical expenses, McAleer adds that differences could also be found in coverage for expenses related to an imposed quarantine while away, if the traveller contracts the virus. Some plans include a per-day amount that would be paid if quarantined, but others will not, he says.
But the bottom line is that COVID-19 coverage is here to stay, which will come as a relief to all travellers. Regardless of what that coverage specifically entails, McAleer says there’s one thing all travellers should do when it comes to travel insurance: book early.
“You don’t want to say, ‘I booked three months ago but now I’m not feeling well and I’m going to go buy a travel insurance policy,’” he says. “Many companies will have purchase windows that will protect them from a claim on that because you now know about it. You want to make sure that you’re getting your insurance as close to booking as possible.”
To read the full article, check out the Feb. 16 issue of Travelweek here.