When you buy travel insurance, you hope you’ll never have to use it. But the reality is, nearly a quarter of Canadians have had to seek medical care at some point while abroad*. And then there are mishaps like lost baggage, stolen passports, etc. It’s at times like these when you realize just how useful your travel assistance service can be.

Assistance services: always ready to step in on behalf of the traveller

Traveler in medical consultationWho are the members of the assistance team?

Most travel insurance providers offer assistance services that enable you get help as soon as you need it. Experienced professionals who speak your language are just a phone call away to provide support and step-by-step instructions, and provide all the tools you require. The team normally comprises bilingual staffers trained to respond to emergency calls, as well as nurses and doctors who can support you and handle your file with a personal touch. If necessary, they also have access to translators.

Concretely, what kind of help do assistance services provide?

Travel assistance services swing into action when you have a health problem: referring you to a hospital, ensuring that you receive the proper care, and making payment arrangements. They will also arrange for your return to Canada, if need be. Receiving medical care in a foreign country isn’t always the best option, especially if the quality of care available there is questionable. In such cases, the assistance services staff will make all necessary calls to co-ordinate things with the physicians and hospitals involved, find the most appropriate method of transportation, and so on.

The best assistance services will also take care of your loved ones and your property. For example, they’ll take care of getting your children or your pet home if you need to return to Canada for medical reasons. They’ll also make arrangements to recover your baggage or vehicle. And they can co-ordinate transportation for a loved one If you are hospitalized at destination. That means less stress for you and your family!

But travel assistance is useful for more than just medical care. If you are the victim of theft or lose your passport, for instance, you can call your assistance service for advice and be referred to the relevant authorities. You can also call them with questions you may have about vaccinations, embassy locations, or the geopolitical situation in the region you plan to visit, for example.

Three cardinal rules to keep in mind about travel assistance

  1. Keep your assistance card on you throughout your trip. Also, note all relevant contact information on your mobile device. Give this information to your travel companions and to a friend or family member in Quebec. You and those closest to you should always have the helpline number close at hand in case there’s a problem.

    A useful tip: check whether your insurer has a mobile app. If so, download it. You’ll be able to use it to make an assistance request or get information.

  2. Always contact your assistance service as quickly as possible, especially in the event of a medical problem. Ask someone else to call if you are unable to. Ideally, you should reach the assistance service before arriving at a hospital or clinic.

    If you don’t speak to the assistance service, your insurance coverage may be reduced. Also, a quality assistance service will have a network of reliable medical facilities to recommend to you. That way, there is less danger of you receiving poor-quality care, or receiving more care than you need, the costs of which your insurer may refuse to cover.

  3. Keep all documents relative to a medical consultation.Ask for bills, medical records, prescriptions, statements of account, proofs of payment, etc. All of these documents will be useful when you request reimbursement from your insurer, if applicable, for follow-up with your physician in Quebec, etc.

Travel assistance: it’s useful!

Louise Demers, who lives in the Quebec City region, was vacationing in the Dominican Republic with her spouse Martial Sanfaçon when she suddenly collapsed. Suspecting a heart attack, the doctor at the hotel infirmary had her transferred by ambulance to the nearest hospital. Mr. Sanfaçon quickly called CanAssistance service, which is included with CAA-Quebec Travel Insurance and provided by Blue Cross. The team members opened a file, communicated with the hospital to arrange payment, contacted the airline to discuss possible repatriation, and paid for the medication administered to Ms. Demers.

“When you’re worried about your loved one, the last thing you need is anxiety about bills and paperwork,” Mr. Sanfaçon says. “I saw people at the hospital who were in dicey situations: one man was pleading for a higher limit on his credit card; another was forced to cancel his return flight. My own insurance handled everything. I give them a score of 11 out of 10!”**

Marc, aged 30, was seriously hurt in a fall while skiing in the U.S. He had to be medevac’d from the hill and taken to hospital for tests. He was diagnosed with contusions and a broken knee. That’s when Blue Cross CanAssistance service took over: besides handling all the formalities with the hospital, an agent organized Marc’s return home via air and ground ambulances. And of course, all expenses were paid—a total of $122,116. Marc’s travel insurance, meanwhile, had cost him just $37.

Quality travel insurance includes comprehensive assistance service

When you shop for travel insurance, you should compare of the coverage options available, of course, but also whether the assistance service meets your needs. Beyond the coverage, it’s the quality and scope of assistance available that make the difference between good and excellent travel insurance.

Remember that with full travel insurance and quality travel assistance services, you can avoid plenty of problems. You’ve probably heard about people having to launch crowdfunding appeals to pay for medical care received while travelling abroad, repatriating a loved one because of death or illness, or travel expenses to be with someone in hospital. Make sure you never have to deal with a similar headache!

10 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN SHOPPING FOR INSURANCE

Not all assistance services are created equal! Check that you’ll have access to all the benefits you want.

  1. Can I get help in the language of my choice?
  2. Is the helpline in operation around-the-clock?
  3. Is translation/interpretation service available?
  4. Is help available in case of loss or theft of my passport or other identification?
  5. Is help available in case of identity theft?
  6. Can I be quickly referred to a doctor, clinic or hospital according to my specific needs?
  7. Will medical bills be paid on the spot or will I need to pay them out of pocket and claim a reimbursement?
  8. Does the service include co-ordination of claims with the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) and Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ)?
  9. Will you contact my family doctor to forward my file for follow-up?
  10. Can you, if necessary, send urgent messages to my family to reassure them about my condition?

* A study by the Travel Health Insurance Association published in September 2015 found that 23% of Canadians surveyed had required medical care while travelling.
** Martial Sanfaçon’s testimonial is published in full in the Winter 2017 issue of CAA-Quebec Magazine.