With fall now here, Canadian snowbirds from Victoria to St John’s are preparing for another round of summer as they plan their annual pilgrimages to wamer destinations, such as Florida and other parts of the world.

However, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, more than 70 per cent of Canadians aged 65 or over have some kind of chronic health condition. For a snowbird – Canadians who migrate south for the winter – this means that having the right level of coverage is extra important when far from home.

Pre-existing medical conditions

One of the biggest hurdles to insuring snowbirds is dealing with pre-existing medical conditions. This means ensuring the snowbird meets the pre-stability clause of not needing treatment within x amount of time, says Alex Bittner, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) and director, broker and specialty distribution at Manulife.

Ruth Cohen, director at ITP Travel Montreal says if snowbirds don’t meet the stability requirement, their policy could be void or they can be excluded for anything related to the pre-existing condition.

Making sure the client meets the stability requirement is one of the most crucial steps in keeping a snowbird insured and many policies have different lengths. Robin Ingle, CEO of Ingle International says if a client has recently been diagnosed with a condition, he or she usually needs to remain stable for the first 12 months, so it is very hard to be covered.

“If you have been hospitalised or changed dosage or type, many companies will view that as unstable. Most (insurers) have a stability period of usually 90 days before or to the extreme of 5 years,” says Ingle.

He adds that many insurance companies might consider a snowbird as being treated if they do something as simple as see a doctor. He says advisors and clients have to review the stability clause and make sure your client fits the clause.

If the client changes medication, Ingle says this may change his medical status, and he should notify the insurance company depending on the policy conditions. Erin Finn, director, underwriting for RSA Travel at RSA Canada, says for snowbirds there are a lot of questions because a vast majority of them have some kind of condition. Detailed questions will be asked by insurers to determine the risk.

She recommends that if a client doesn’t fall into the standard category then the advisor should contact the insurance company to see if there is anything they can do.

“Some companies will offer individual medical underwriting. You can work with the underwriter to see if there is something that they can offer you,” says Finn.

She recommends that if your client doesn’t fall into the standard category that you should contact the insurance company to see if there is anything they can do.

The right coverage

When helping a snowbird client there are many different factors that need consideration and a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. Ingle says there are three things an advisor needs to do to determine if their client has the right coverage:

Eligibility – Read the eligibility clause since there may be nuances. For instance, a policy might state that a person with a terminal prognosis won’t be covered, whereas a person who has cancer may or may not be covered

Age related – There are policies out there that Ingle says have certain age restrictions and won’t cover people aged over 65 or over 80. So an advisor needs to pay close attention to this one.

Benefits – Ingle says it is important that benefits match the clients’ needs. This includes: What kind of coverage is available? Will they have enough coverage and does the coverage meet their needs? He says most Canadian policies have anywhere between $2 million to $10 million of combined benefits.

“What you want to do for the benefits is make sure you’re covered for your hospital and medical care as an in and out patient. The plans across the board will not cover you for unstable or recently diagnosed medical conditions,” he says.

Finn says the best thing an advisor can do is to ask their snowbird clients a lot of questions on what they need in terms of coverage and this will enable them to have a great trip.

Know your client

Advisors need to be sure their clients understand every question that is asked of them. If need be, the advisor should get their clients to ask their doctors, since the medical answers must be answered correctly to help determine the coverage.

 “That means knowing the client. Often there will be a medical questionnaire, the client needs to know their health and be able to answer the questions correctly,” explains Finn.

The first thing an advisor needs to do, Cohen says, is to find out their client’s medical conditions, past and present. “It’s also important to know what conditions they have even if they don’t take medication for it…This will establish what type of coverage we can get them,” says Cohen.

Every client has different needs

Finn says by asking a lot of questions, an advisor can help determine the needs of a client, as every client has different needs and wants out of their policy.

“If it’s an expensive trip or cruise, you may want trip cancellation, but if you’re driving down to Florida, then you may not need it. For some people, they want comprehensive (coverage), while some people just want the medical,” she adds.

One of the biggest concerns THIA sees is how a lot of people don’t realise how little they are covered by public health plans when they leave for a trip. Bittner says many people think the government will cover them, but the reality he says is that there is little coverage once they’re out of their home province and that’s why getting a snowbird insured correctly is crucial.

“An advisor is one of the best things a snowbird can have. They can help with the paperwork and find the best plan for them,” says Bittner.