Passport? Check. Airline tickets? Check. Travel insurance assistance phone number? Wait – what’s that?Travellers may not think about taking along their insurance travel assistance phone number when they go on vacation, but insurance company officials say it’s the first call to make in the event of a medical or other travel emergency and for assistance in the claims process.
“The best advice advisors and brokers should give to their clients is to make sure anyone who goes on a trip outside the country carries the travel assistance telephone number,” says François Morel, business development advisor - Travel Insurance at Desjardins Group in Montreal. “If possible, also have the name of the insurance company and the policy number.”
The assistance service helps clients find everything from hospitals and doctors in foreign countries to immediately opening a case file so a claim will be already in progress when a client gets back home, says Mr. Morel.
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, only about 2% to 3% of legitimate travel insurance claims are denied, says Martha Turnbull, Head, Auto, Travel & Property Claims, RBC Insurance in Toronto. But some health claims, while legitimate, may not be covered because of a pre-existing health condition, notes Mr. Morel.
If a claim is denied, in whole or in part, the insurer sends out a letter explaining why and the client has three years to appeal the decision, he says.
To help your clients’ claims go smoother, advisors/brokers need to ensure that all the information on the claim form is completed correctly. For example: travellers who have received health treatment outside the country may receive a fax or other information from the treatment centre when they return. If the client doesn’t make sure that all the necessary information has been included – even things as simple as the correct date the care was given – then it could take longer to process. “In this case, we get the form and then we have to send it back to the client and the client has to send it back to the hospital,” says Mr. Morel. “This is why sometimes people think it’s a long process. But we cannot work on a claim unless we have the necessary information. This is not just for Desjardins – it’s for the entire insurance industry.”
Insurers often check back with doctors to ensure treatment has been given and/or to make sure the health history on the original health questionnaire was filled in correctly, says Ms. Turnbull. “Getting information from physicians can hold things up. Sometimes they need to be nudged a bit” by the insurer and patient.
There are a variety of travel insurance products people can use and each is handled a bit differently, says Ms. Turnbull.
For example, she says as soon as clients realize they need to use their trip cancellation insurance they should contact the insurance company and get some advice on what to do. If the client does decide to cancel the trip, a claim is opened and forms are sent out. The client is asked for proof of trip payment, such as an invoice or booking confirmation, and needs to fill out a form for a doctor to sign if the reason for cancelling is medical.
If everything is in order, she says, a cheque for the non-refundable pre-paid portion of the travel is paid in one to two days.
With trip interruption insurance, triggered due to the death or illness of a family member, the insurer can potentially pre-pay a change fee or a new airline ticket, says Ms.Turnbull. The insurer would also ask for a special claim form that would give client consent to ask for confidential information.
When it comes to making a medical claim, many Canadian insurers have agreements with hospitals outside the country – usually in Arizona and Florida – that file directly to the Canadian insurer and make the claim procedure smoother, says Mr. Morel. “Normally, you don’t pay [on-the-spot] for the medical services, if there is an agreement between the insurer and that specific hospital or clinic.” Some insurers do not have these agreements with facilities outside the U.S. so clients may well have to pay directly by credit card there and get reimbursed once they get home. Again, Mr. Morel says, calling the travel assistance service will help guide travellers through these problems.
Reasons for keeping the insurance travel assistance phone number handy is also important given the kinds of places Canadians are visiting these days. Ms. Turnbull says there’s a great emphasis recently on adventure trips, such as backpacking in countries like Thailand, Bali and Eastern Europe. She suggests advisors/brokers recommend to their clients that they may also want to take with them a Canada Direct calling card, which enables travellers to call Canada from virtually anywhere in the world either using a credit card or making a collect call. An insurance company will accept collect calls.