The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada

The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada

November 18, 2009 10:00 ET

THIA: H1N1 Threat Fails To Ground Canada's Snowbirds

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 18, 2009) - With H1N1 remaining a top concern among the almost 950,000 Canadian snowbirds expected to head to foreign sun spots this winter, the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) emphasizes the need for all travellers to buy supplemental health insurance before they leave the country-no matter what their destination.

Provincial health insurance will cover only a small fraction of travellers' health costs should they contract the flu or require medical care for any unexpected illness while in a foreign country. In most cases, travel health insurance will cover the balance, and even transport the patient home if medically necessary.

Martha Turnbull, president of THIA, also emphasizes that there are virtually no destinations free and clear of H1N1 virus, seasonal flu, or some other potential pandemic; and snowbirds, who traditionally stay out of the country for long periods, expose themselves to whatever health threats exist in their winter habitat. "Even minor medical interventions abroad can be enormously costly for the tourist, often running into thousands of dollars per day. And demands for immediate payment of medical or hospital bills for those uninsured for foreign travel are the rule rather than the exception," she warns.

"Despite such threats, and despite the bad economy, more burdensome cross- border restrictions, and broader fears of violence and terrorism, Canadian seniors are expected to travel in record numbers this winter season. And it's no longer just Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and California that attracts them. Increasing numbers are also wintering in Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain and Portugal," she says, citing data from the Conference Board of Canada.

(According to the CBoC, snowbirds aged 56 or older will make some 944,000 trips of at least 30 consecutive days out of the country in 2010. That is up from 433,000 a decade earlier.)

"Snowbirds are tough. There is little that will stand in their way of escaping Canada's winters. And more than most travellers, they have learned the value of travel insurance. It has been estimated in various surveys that at least 80 percent of snowbirds over 65 buy travel insurance when they leave their home province," says Ms. Turnbull. By contrast, only 47 percent of travellers in all age groups say they "always " or "usually" buy travel insurance when crossing the border into the United States, the country with the highest healthcare costs in the world.

"That is unacceptable risk," says Ms. Turnbull.

Ms. Turnbull emphasizes that there are hundreds of travel insurance products available from thousands of sources across Canada, many of them specifically designed for people in less than perfect health. "This is no longer a product just for the young and healthy. Most insurance applicants, even those with certain chronic conditions that are stable and well controlled on medication may qualify for coverage," she says.

About THIA. THIA is the national organization representing travel insurers, underwriters, re-insurers, emergency assistance companies, air ambulance companies and allied services in the travel insurance field. Its website is http://www.thiaonline.com/.

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