Advisor Cheat Sheet: COVID-19 Travel by Canadian Group Benefit Provider
By Simply Benefits Marketing
November 18, 2021
Regulations surrounding travel are ever-changing given the conditions presented by COVID-19. Travel insurance carriers have had to consider the risks associated with leaving Canada's borders. Currently, Global Affairs has classified countries as a Level 1, 2, 3 or 4 advisory based on the threat of travelling to that nation.
Below is a cheat sheet guide for employee benefits advisors with links to key Canadian Group Benefit Providers travel coverage and policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Important Note: COVID-19 Travel rules and guidelines change frequently - please contact each carrier directly for the latest updates.
Canadian Group Benefit Providers - Travel Links
Click the carrier logo or provider name below to link to each carrier's travel web page.
As of July 28, 2021, Alberta Blue Cross began providing coverage for COVID-19 related incidents for customers who have emergency travel benefits. For all customers purchasing trip cancellation and interruption coverage, COVID-19 will not be an eligible reason for cancellation as it’s now a known and anticipated event. Both new and existing travel plans include COVID-19 coverage for emergencies. This includes extended hospital stays, ventilator costs, and transportation home. Coverage will not include vaccines, COVID-19 screening tests, or costs associated with having to quarantine. Emergency medical coverage for COVID-19 for individuals who choose to go on cruises will not be provided.
Travel coverage does not apply for COVID-19 if a diagnosis is made prior to departure or suspected symptoms appear prior to departure. But, if symptoms begin after departure and a diagnosis is made while travelling, the policy's coverage will apply. The costs associated with being vaccinated abroad are not covered as it is not a medical emergency. If side effects occur following vaccination, however, and require emergency medical attention, they will be covered. COVID-19 testing in connection with government requirements is not covered.
Emergency medical expenses including those related to COVID-19 are covered for travel destinations for which the Government of Canada has issued a Level 1, 2, or 3 travel advisory. Medical expenses associated with travelling to a country with a Level 4 advisory are not covered. This also applies to travel on cruises. If a positive test while travelling occurs, the member is covered based on the maximum allowed by the contract for medical expenses, additional expenses incurred to purchase a return ticket or the cost of modifying a current ticket. Trips are not eligible for refund or cancellation for a reason of not meeting vaccination or testing requirements. Trips, however, can be cancelled from a positive test prior to departure by providing a medical report. Expenses incurred from government-mandated screening tests or quarantine are not covered.
Claims related to COVID-19 that occurred during travel to a country with travel advisory warnings will be assessed like any other claim under the plan. Plan coverages vary, so every claim will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Out-of-country coverage covers eligible expenses associated with symptoms of a medical emergency that require seeking treatment. These include medical evacuation, family assistance, and lodging. As the risk of quarantine continues to grow for international travel, expenses incurred when not experiencing symptoms, whether under quarantine or not, are not covered. The situation evolves rapidly, therefore it is encouraged to adhere to the travel advisories and warnings from the Government of Canada.
While travelling, fees to be reimbursed as a result of trip interruption or cancellation are dependent on the type of coverage included in the plan. Emergency healthcare is covered in destinations up to a Level 3 advisory, but not at a Level 4. If a return flight is cancelled and the return flight offered by the airline is declined, trip cancellation coverage ends. Flights cancelled due to COVID-19 are not eligible for reimbursement. Fees for vaccinations in other countries are not covered, however, any illness or side effects experienced are covered. Trips cancelled for not meeting testing/vaccination requirements are not covered. Various other COVID-related expenses can be covered depending on whether Trip Cancellation and/or Emergency Health Care coverage are held.
Policyholders are covered for health emergencies including COVID-19 when travelling outside of Canada if the Group Travel Emergency Assistance Program is included in the plan. Testing for COVID-19 in accordance with pre-travel government regulations or while travelling abroad is not covered unless it is a medical emergency. If a policyholder is unable to return to Canada within the allowable trip duration, the Group Travel Emergency Assistance Program can only be extended if the policyholder is hospitalized as a result of an emergency. Vaccination status does not impact your coverage, however, quarantine expenses are not covered, and expenses incurred while awaiting a negative test to return to Canada are also not covered.
Plan members travelling to countries that are popular vacation destinations and have reopened their borders will be covered for eligible expenses, including those related to COVID-19. Plan members travelling to countries for which the Government of Canada has issued a Level 4 travel advisory (“Avoid all travel”), however, will not be covered. Travellers could be denied entry to another country, even though their travel may be considered essential, or may be forced to self-isolate upon arrival at the destination. Therefore, Canadians travelling to another country should always consult that country’s travel restrictions and guidelines before departure and confirm plan coverage.
All standard GSC travel plans had been updated to include coverage for emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19 through December 31, 2021, up to the existing maximums and limitations within each plan. The following benefits will now be accessible during a quarantine period for a covered Fully Vaccinated Traveller who tests positive for COVID-19 during their trip and is delayed in returning home: meal and accommodation expenses; medical expenses incurred during the quarantine period including an extension of prescription medications and follow up COVID-19 tests; additional expenses incurred for one-way economy fare to return home for the covered quarantined person(s) once they are cleared for travel; and emergency medical expenses. Quarantine expenses will continue to be eligible for up to 14 days in the event that the quarantine period causes a plan member to be away from their province of residence beyond the maximum number of days per trip covered by their plan.
Only expenses incurred as a result of an eligible medical emergency can be reimbursed, within the terms of the contract. This means expenses related to non-emergency vaccination and/or testing will not be eligible for reimbursement. Coverage will not be extended if the insured does not return to their province of residence before the contract’s usual maximum trip duration expires, even if it is due to a quarantine, a positive COVID-19 test result, a new carrier or border service requirement or a border shutdown. It is the insured’s responsibility to make every attempt possible to return to their province of residence before coverage ends. However, if the insured cannot return to his or her province of residence in time due to an eligible medical emergency incurred prior to the end of the usual maximum trip duration, the usual maximum trip duration can be extended.
Effective October 21, 2021, the Government of Canada has lifted the global travel advisory to avoid all non-essential travel due to COVID-19. Travellers who are fully vaccinated and those who are not yet eligible for a vaccine due to their age will be eligible for coronavirus-related health claims provided there is no COVID-related travel advisory for their specific destination. Coverage for COVID-related health claims if there is a travel advisory in place is dependent on the type of plan that the insured holds. Currently, cruise travel outside of Canada is not recommended, and as a result, any COVID-related health claims while on a cruise will not be covered.
Manulife's medical benefit amount for COVID-19 and related medical complications is $1,000,000. The COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan for Travelling Canadians is designed to help cover medical expenses, including medical expenses if you test positive for COVID-19 in your destination. It also includes Trip Interruption insurance for hotel and meal expenses, and for a return flight if you are required, by a medical professional, to quarantine or self-isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test result or contact tracing. Tests required to return to Canada are not covered. Trip interruption, quarantine, or delayed return expenses if stuck outside of Canada due to Covid test requirements are not covered. Plan coverage can be extended if you can not return to Canada on time.
To qualify for coverage, before departure policyholders must: be symptom-free, have not tested positive (or be awaiting a test result), and have not been in contact with anyone who tested positive in the last 14 days. Medavie Blue Cross travel insurance does not cover: any COVID-19 testing, including those required by governments to re-enter the country; any costs related to delays caused by testing requirements; any costs related to quarantines, including those mandated by governments. For plans with trip cancellation insurance, since COVID-19 is considered a known situation, cancelling or interrupting a trip for a reason related to the pandemic remains not covered.
If denied boarding on a return flight due to a positive test, trip cancellation or interruption insurance does not cover situations that were known at the time the policy was purchased. COVID-19 is classified as a known situation, and the costs of taking a test or vaccine are not eligible for reimbursement. Side effects of the vaccine, however, if they present a medical emergency would be covered. Costs associated with quarantine upon return to Canada due to government regulations are not covered. If a policyholder tests positive for COVID within 24 hours of the expected return date, the insurance contract will automatically be extended free of charge for the duration of the hospitalization and for 24 hours following discharge from the hospital or up to 72 hours when the return is postponed due to the medical emergency.
With vaccination programs in place across Canada, Orion Travel Insurance has expanded COVID-19 protection for travelling during a Level 3 travel advisory. The travel insurance plans already provide coverage for COVID-related illnesses at a Level 1 or Level 2 advisory. Travel advisory Level 3 coverage is $2.5 million CAD per insured when you have received at least one dose of a Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to departure, or $5 million CAD per insured when you have received all doses of Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccinations at least 14 days prior to departure.
If a policyholder has not had COVID-19 in the 30 days prior to departure, and have met all other standard eligibility requirements of the plan, coverage for up to $10,000,000 for all eligible benefits under the Emergency Medical plan is offered. These benefits include COVID-19 related medical expenses and subsistence costs for unexpected quarantine. However, if a plan member is unvaccinated and travelling to a country where there is a Government of Canada advisory warning against the outbreak of an infectious disease such as COVID-19, the traveller will not be covered. Additionally, expected expenses such as a travel destination requiring a quarantine upon arrival are not covered.
The Group Benefits medical emergency coverage changed effective January 1, 2021. COVID-19 will be covered for travellers departing on or after January 1, 2021 while there is a Level 3 (Avoid Non-Essential travel) advisory or lower issued by the Government of Canada. For those insurance policies with Trip Cancellation Trip Interruption coverage, the COVID-19 Pandemic will continue to be considered a known occurrence and as such is excluded from coverage. If a policyholder is already in a country when a Level 4 advisory is issued, the traveller will be given 10 days to return home with medical emergency coverage remaining in effect during the 10-day period.
All Travel Plans include the Emergency Medical Care benefit, which provides coverage for a policyholder from COVID-19 while travelling internationally or within Canada. Costs of obtaining a PCR test for travel are not covered as they are not medically-required. All standard travel insurance solutions provide coverage for extra costs of commercial accommodations and meals resulting from a delayed return trip due to a sudden and unforeseen illness or accident requiring immediate treatment. If a plan member is placed in quarantine beyond the planned return date due to a positive COVID-19 screening test for travel purposes, coverage for meals and accommodations is not available. If, however, immediate treatment for the management of symptoms and medical condition is required, coverage for meals and accommodations is available.
For plan members leaving Canada, the trip duration limit in the policy contract applies. The trip limit can not be extended even if travel home is restricted. COVID-19 medical emergencies are covered in the same way as other medical emergencies outside of Canada. Quarantine will not be covered unless the policyholder requires immediate emergency medical treatment. These provisions include situations where a policyholder tests positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms that do not require immediate medical treatment; or tests negative but is still required to quarantine. The plan does not cover the cost of: flight cancellations, delays, or other expenses caused by border closures, difficulties meeting Canada’s border entry requirements, or other trip disruptions due to COVID-19. COVID-19 screening tests will not be reimbursed under Out-of-Country Travel, Extended Health Care, or Personal Spending Accounts.
Effective March 11, 2020 COVID-19 was determined to be a known event and therefore is not covered for Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption policies purchased after that date. For policies purchased prior to March 11, 2020, claims are eligible to reimbursed if a Global Affairs travel Level 3 or Level 4 advisory was issued prior to the travellers departure date. Policyholders with Emergency Medical benefits that contract COVID-19 at the travel destination will not be covered if a Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisory is in effect on the traveller's departure date.
There may be limitations to coverage when choosing to travel outside of Canada after March 12, 2020. Wawanesa Life is reviewing all out of country travel on a case by case basis. In general, the plan covers medical emergencies when travelling outside of Canada, therefore any expenses incurred for hotels, meals, change in flights, etc are not covered by the plan.
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