As snowbirds prepare to fly south, travel insurance brokers are being inundated by calls from clients concerned about the H1N1 virus and how it might affect their coverage plans.

How H1N1 could affect travel coverage

Robin Ingle of Ingle International provided the following information on some H1N1-related situ­ations and how they might affect your travel insurance:

Travelling overseas specifically to receive the H1N1 vaccine: No travel insurance policy will cover expenses related to H1N1 or the vaccination under these circumstances.

Travelling overseas with H1N1: If you are already suffering from H1N1, or suspect that you might be, you should not travel. Travel insurance will not cover you for any related expenses if you were already experi­encing symptoms when you left.

Emergency medical - Contracting H1N1 overseas: This will generally be covered if you were healthy when you left home.

Emergency medical - Vaccine side effects overseas: If you had the vaccine in Canada and develop side effects after you leave on your trip, different insurers will see this differently. Some will exclude it as an unstable pre-existing condition, others will not.

Trip cancellation - Travel advisory against destination: If a travel advisory is issued against your des­tination between the date that you purchase trip cancellation and the date you leave on the trip, you will be covered for cancellation.

Trip cancellation - H1N1 diagnosis or quarantine: If you are unable to travel due to your illness or quar­antine, and you had no symptoms or reason to expect illness or quarantine when you purchased trip cancellation insurance, you will be covered.

Trip interruption: If you must cut your trip short due to H1N1-related issues, you should be covered as long as the issues are new and unexpected.

"It's probably the most talked about topic now among clients and advisors," said Patrick Lavoie, Marketing Vice President at SecuriGlobe.

It is the busiest time of year for travel brokers as snowbirds are heading south and they are asking lots of questions about their coverage with respect to H1N1, he says.

Mathieu Laplante, President of SecuriGlobe, says that as of early November there had been no noticeable increase in claims. "But the season is very early." Most of the calls are to obtain information.


Robin Ingle, Chairman and CEO of Ingle International, says there are "interpretation issues" around the H1N1 virus when it comes to travel coverage. "Not all the insurance companies are treating H1N1 equally. Each company will interpret issues in their own way."

He had a client that inquired about what would happen if he received the H1N1 vaccination while in Canada and suffered a reaction that forced him to cancel his trip, or fell ill while out of the country? Ingle International looked into the question for him and discovered that most insurers would cover this situation, but also found a couple that would not.

If a traveller is concerned about what their policy covers with respect to H1N1, get it in writing, Mr. Ingle advises.

Mr. Laplante says another major concern among clients is what would happen if they received their vaccination against the virus in the United States and had a reaction to it that required medical care. Would their U.S. medical costs be covered in this scenario? The answer to that question is, "It depends on the insurer...Some are saying 'yes' and some are saying 'no,'" Mr. Laplante says. Travellers should check with their brokers to see if they would be covered in this situation.

He adds that some insurers might deny the claim on the grounds that in receiving the vaccine, the insured sought out medical treatment that was not an emergency, but a choice.

The result is that some snowbirds are waiting to receive their flu shot in Canada. "A lot of people are delaying their trips."

Mr. Lavoie says another question clients are asking is whether they would be fully covered if they become seriously ill with H1N1 while out of the country. The answer in this situation is, "Yes, they would be fully covered."

Another question is what would happen if they get very sick with H1N1 while away and need to return to Canada, but airlines refuse to let them on board? In such a scenario, an air ambulance might be a possibility, but this would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Sales increase?

Has H1N1 resulted in increased sales as worried travellers seek to cover the risk of falling ill or being forced to cancel their vacation plans? Mr. Lavoie of SecuriGlobe says sales are up by 20% over last year but he does not believe this is due to Swine flu fears. Instead, he believes the firm is enjoying the fruits of its increased marketing initiatives to financial advisors and other potential sales partners.

Mr. Ingle says his firm's business is up 30% this year. He thinks this increase is partly due to H1N1 and partly due to financial advisors who have been expanding their businesses since the economic downturn to include additional offerings such as travel insurance. 

Interviewed in early November, Mr. Ingle says he has noticed a spike in sales particularly in the previous month or so. "Canadians are still going to go away...but they are getting more insurance and they're asking questions related to H1N1."

Mr. Lavoie says he thinks client concerns will settle down once everyone has had a chance to get their vaccination. But he thinks this pandemic has underlined the need for education, in particular, he thinks insurers should have been more proactive in their communications with clients about what their policies would cover in regard to H1N1. "It's a lesson that travellers have a need to be educated when events like this happen. Everyone was caught off guard."

The positive side

Mr. Ingle says the positive side of client concerns around H1N1 is that it gives brokers a chance to show their expertise and value. Travel coverage can be complex and the advisor needs to understand the issues and choose the right product. They also need to communicate with clients and address their concerns. "You never want to back away from it," he says.