Many Canadian snowbirds worry about the costs and processes associated with medical care in the United States. All of this is very normal; almost everyone has a friend of a friend who had to pay a fortune to get medical attention because of an injury or unexpected illness. That being said, you don’t have to end up in the same situation. You can travel without stress if you are well prepared and well informed.
We will go into detail about the different scenarios that may arise when it comes to receiving medical care in the United States to give you peace of mind so you can make the most of your trip.
Are American Hospitals Like Canadian Ones?
Yes and no. If you find yourself in an American hospital and you are physically able to call your insurance company, do so as soon as possible to find out which services you are entitled to. Your travel insurance policy may not cover some medications, services, or even rooms.
You’ll find that when it comes to hospital admission and prioritizing, the process is quite similar to that in Canada. Since American hospitals work on a fee-for-service basis, hospital waiting rooms are not as crowded as they can sometimes get in our Canadian hospitals. This means waiting times will likely be much shorter, and more beds will be available if you need one.
Keep your identification and the necessary information for your travel insurance on hand. It’s good to have this handy in your wallet or easily accessible on your smartphone. Make sure to answer all of the questionnaires and be completely truthful as you do so. Keep all of your papers and receipts.
Sometimes, if you pay cash, you can benefit from a reduced bill or receive more immediate attention—the American medical system is indeed very particular.
Is it Better to Go Public or Private?
You can check with your travel insurance provider prior to your trip to see what is available to you, or you can get in touch with them before heading to the hospital (if you are in a state to do so) and find out what your options are. Your SoNomad insurance agent will be able to direct you to the best hospitals in the area.
Public hospitals tend to be funded by public donations and government grants, whereas private hospitals are privately financed and often promote a more positive image.
Typically, public hospitals are much larger than private ones and thus are more likely to accept a broader range of travel insurance providers. They are also usually far busier than private hospitals.
It is worth finding out if your travel insurance covers you in the private sector, as private hospitals tend to have newer equipment, less-stressed staff, and cleaner facilities. Smaller hospitals typically have the ability to provide more personalized service.
That being said, larger hospitals are usually able to get you in to see a doctor more quickly than if you go into a smaller private hospital. It truly depends on which region you are in.
Is it Better to Receive Non-Emergency Treatment in the US or to Return to Canada?
This one really depends on you, your state of health and your travel plans.
If you find yourself able to wait for the treatment, you’re better off waiting until you get back to Canada simply to avoid any unforeseen surprises such as hidden medical fees or complications that may arise. It also allows you to speak directly to your family doctor to keep your medical history in one place and facilitate follow-up visits.
The exception to this rule would be if you are consulting a renowned specialist in the United States or if the wait time for the treatment is considerably shorter than it would be back in Canada. This is a case-by-case scenario, and the answer will vary depending on your situation.
How Does the Payment Work?
It depends. Sometimes you may receive the bill before leaving the hospital, whereas in other cases, you may have to wait several weeks or even months before receiving it in the mail.
If you receive your bill right away, call your travel insurance provider to find out if they can pay the institution directly. In this case, you can pay the balance by cash, check, or credit card.
By rule of thumb, you should pay your bill within 30 days of the treatment to avoid getting calls from the collection agencies. Some treatments will actually need to be paid for in advance and in cash.
Get Specialized Travel Insurance for Snowbirds
When looking for an insurance provider, we recommend choosing a company like SoNomad that offers products specifically for snowbirds. Many insurance packages may be subject to conditions such as age limits, the length of the coverage or the exclusion of pre-existing illnesses or conditions. This is why it is very important to call your travel insurance provider to help identify the best plan for your specific needs.
Do Not Rely on your Provincial Health Insurance Plan
The majority of provincial plans only cover a very small fraction of the hospital costs incurred outside of Canada. The OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan), for example, covers $400/day while a trip to the operating room or intensive care unit could cost you up to $10,000/day USD. That being said, you still want to make sure that your provincial insurance does not run out while you are away. As a reminder, you must physically remain in your home province for a specific number of days in a given year to maintain coverage. Your travel insurance should cover the amount not included in your provincial plan.
Travel with Peace of Mind in the USA
The best accessory you can bring when travelling to the United States is your health. If your health is affected, the last thing you want to worry about is how you will manage to cover the costs associated with getting better.
Leave in full confidence, with the complete intention of relaxing and unwinding during your trip, but always be prepared for the unforeseen. Insure yourself with a travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses, and call your travel insurance company prior to receiving any treatment. Regardless of where you end up in the world, your health and safety are a number one priority.