Canadians Warned to Get Health Insurance for U.S. Travel
Traffic in Vancouver, as I learned the hard way during a recent trip to British Columbia, is a nightmare. The crisis has become so severe that the city is now home to North America's only commercial radio station dedicated 24/7 to traffic reports. But judging from the ads on AM 730, the only thing Canadians seem to fear more than complete gridlock in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics is having a medical emergency while traveling in the United States.
While Republicans politicians including Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and especially Roy Blunt (R-MO) continue their myth-making about the horrors of Canadian health care, our neighbors to the north are warned by their government, auto association and private companies alike about the dangers of falling ill while visiting the USA.
In its travel report for the United States, the Canadian government warns its citizens:
Do not rely on your provincial health plan to cover all expenses if you get sick or are injured while abroad. It may cover nothing or only a portion of the costs.
For its part, the British Columbia Ministry of Health Services offers a more dire assessment for residents of the province:
You should be aware that your provincial coverage may not pay for all the health care costs you may incur outside the province, and the difference can be substantial. For example, B.C. pays $75 (Cdn) a day for emergency in-patient hospital care, while the average cost in the U.S. often exceeds $1000 (US) a day, and can be as high as $10,000 (US) a day in intensive care.
The BCAA - BC's version of AAA - similarly alerts its members that "many people are surprised to learn that Health Insurance BC may not cover all their costs" if they need medical attention outside of their home province," adding:
"It may cover less than 10% of costs for an emergency trip to a hospital in the United States."
In response, the club offers a host of single and multi-trip packages for individuals Canadians and their families headed to America.
And BCAA is far from alone. While Blue Cross Canada boasts that its comprehensive plans have "become an essential part" of holiday planning "for millions of Canadians," one smaller broker touted its payout of a $115,000 claim to a 20 year tourist who suffered a fractured neck and paralysis while vacationing in Hawaii.
That sum pales in comparison to the million dollar nightmare experienced by Chilliwack, BC resident David Chapman. In 2006, Chapman suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while in California for business. As his mother Joan Dmytryshyn explained, it was ultimately the generosity of American taxpayers who paid for her son's care:
Chapman was covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan (MSP) in B.C., but had not purchased any health insurance to cover him while travelling outside Canada. Joan Dmytryshyn said the U.S. hospital bills quickly began piling up -- huge bills she and her husband Gordon couldn't possibly pay.
"The hospital bill must be well over a million dollars now," said Gordon Dmytryshyn. "It's closer to two million," added Joan.
She said the hospital lobbied on Chapman's behalf and convinced the State of California to cover the entire cost of his care in that state, under the Cal-Med program.
"I think they have been absolutely marvelous and shown that they do have a heart and that they do care," she said. "They've gone to extremes to look after him."
(In this case, it was the BC government which failed Chapman. Claiming that his medical coverage had lapsed after living outside the province for three months, the Health Ministry initially refused to cover both Chapman's transportation back to a Canadian rehabilitation facility and his further care. Only after the CBC broadcast a report on the tragedy did the BC government reverse course.)
No doubt, the contentious debate over the future of the American health care system will continue to feature conservative fear-mongering about the perils of "socialized medicine" in Canada. Meanwhile, like millions of their cousins to the south, Canadians will continue to pray they never get sick or injured while in the United States.