Health insurance key for snowbirds

For many retired Canadians, heading south to warmer climates during the winter months is part of the retirement dream. Some pack up as early as October and won’t be heading back to their Canadian residence until the spring thaw in April.

During these months, a lot can happen. Even if you just plan on enjoying the warm weather and relaxed lifestyle, you should still consider getting insurance to meet your basic health-care needs when you are living outside Canada. Here are a few things to think about when choosing insurance.

• Canadian provincial health-care programs

Many provincial health-care programs have limitations to the coverage you are entitled to, and these may be further limited by factors such as temporary periods of absence from Canada, and your Canadian residency status.

Typically, provincial health care will provide limited coverage for three months from the time you leave the province. After six months outside of the province, most health care programs will terminate your eligibility to receive coverage.

Even with limited coverage during your temporary absence, you should still be prepared for accidents or serious illness. It’s important to check your province’s health-care coverage before you leave the country.

• Foreign health-care coverage

Some Canadian snowbirds holding dual citizenship may be eligible for health-care coverage in the country of their winter residence. Many of these health-care plans will only cover you after a specified waiting period. However, Canadian retirees may find that these plans do not offer comparable coverage and may want to explore health-care insurance.

• Health-care insurance

There are two types of health-care insurance available to retirees spending time abroad. Depending on your needs, you may choose between supplementary and replacement insurance.

• Supplementary insurance:

- Insurance to cover the extra cost of medical services received abroad that are not covered by your province’s health-care system

- Relatively inexpensive since it provides for short-term care for health issues which can be treated once you return to Canada

- Most supplementary plans offer coverage for emergency evacuation back to Canada

- In most cases, you can claim the cost of insurance premiums as an income tax credit on your tax return

• Replacement insurance:

- This is important if you will be staying outside Canada long enough to lose your provincial health-care coverage

- Usually does not cover pre-existing conditions and often has strict age restrictions for eligibility of coverage

- If the plan features coverage for pre-existing conditions, is available to persons over a certain age, and covers you in Canada while you wait to be reinstated for provincial coverage, premiums may become extremely expensive

• Plan ahead and plan according to your health and travel needs

There are many options to meet your retirement health-care needs while you are abroad. Planning ahead can ensure that you have the information and the resources to help you choose the right plan. Consider carefully how long you’ll be away, the impact of your health insurance coverage on your travel budget, and take the time to understand the coverage limitations of your provincial health-care plan.

Once you know everything is in place to take care of all your everyday or emergency health-care needs, you’ll be able enjoy your trip south with greater peace of mind.

This article was supplied by Colin MacAskill, a vice-president and an investment advisor with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Colin welcomes your calls on his direct line 604-257-7455.


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