01/08/2013 12:10 EST | Updated 03/10/2013 05:12 EDT

How To Avoid Travel Health Insurance Pitfalls

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Sydneysiders cool off at Manly beach in Sydney on January 8, 2013. Authorities warned New South Wales state faced one of the highest-risk fire days in its history, and temperatures rapidly climbed above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

With the winter travel season in high gear, Canadians may want to ensure they're adequately covered by a health insurance policy before leaving to ensure they're in store for a hassle-free holiday.

Doing so could help avoid the fate that befell two Ontario seniors who were "blindsided" by $100,000-plus in U.S. medical bills despite buying full coverage travel insurance for trips to the United States.

Their insurance claims were denied, because the pair made what they call honest mistakes when answering a question on their initial application form about past treatments for other ailments.

Getting sick or having an accident while out of the country can be expensive. A broken leg in the United States, for example, is likely to set you back up to $20,000, while an air ambulance trip from Florida to Ontario can run as high as $15,000.

Basic travel insurance will cover things such as lost luggage, trip cancellation and missed connections, but it may not include seeing a doctor, so travellers should look for a travel medical policy that includes medical and dental coverage, air ambulance, private duty nurse expenses and airfare and lodging for a family member to fly out to be by your side.

A recent study by BMO Insurance found that only 41 per cent of Canadians who travel purchase travel insurance on a regular basis in spite of the fact that four in 10 say that at some point in their lives either they or a companion have required medical attention while travelling.

Advice for travellers

Experts say it's important to fill out the medical questionnaire as accurately as possible, disclosing all medical conditions. If there's confusion regarding the questions then seek guidance from a health-care professional.

And if your health has changed in any way, including a change in medication since purchasing the insurance policy, let the insurer know. Otherwise, there could be coverage problems.

Read any travel health policy carefully with an eye for eligibility requirements for coverage and other possible limitations before going on a trip. Also check to see if the insurance provider will cover expenses upfront or whether the policy holder has to pay for hospital bills and be reimbursed after the fact.

If you're travelling out of province but staying in Canada, you may want to consider purchasing insurance to cover emergency expenses if public health-care doesn't pay for things like air or ground ambulances where you'll be visiting.

Travellers who are planning to engage in active sports like scuba diving or parasailing should upgrade their coverage to include policies for adventure travel, since regular policies may not do the job.

Grant W. Gold, a Toronto-based family lawyer whose father recently fell ill during a trip to the United States, says it's also important to make sure you have all the information your travel insurer may need to support your claim, should a medical emergency occur. He said such information can include, but isn't limited to:

- Your travel itinerary, including a copy of the electronic ticket for all travellers in your group.

- Copy of all passports.

- Health-card numbers.

- Credit card numbers, including expiry date and security number.

- Family doctor information.

- List of all medications.

- Proof of travel insurance coverage, including the name and phone number of any broker used.

- Travel insurance details, including contract or certificate numbers, and contact information for the insurer's customer service department.

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