When describing the advantages of being a Canadian, many people point to the promise of universal healthcare. Even when serious medical conditions arise, they know that help is available without breaking the bank.
But while commercial drivers keep their Canadian identity when crossing the border, they lose some of their cherished medical support when venturing into the land of private healthcare.
Few things demonstrate this threat better than a driver who was injured while working for one of the fleets that I know of.
Last fall, he suffered massive head injuries during an accident in a California parking lot. As he was lying in a coma, the medical costs added up to more than $3 million.
Now there is the battle over whether it was a workplace injury or not, because the driver was reportedly off-duty at the time he was hit.
The Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) accounts for the primary policy that pays the cost when someone is injured while on-duty.
Automotive policies apply when the person is off-duty. What about the time when someone is on the job, but off-duty in the context of hours-of-service regulations? Issues like these are usually settled in court.
Someone will have to pay the price – and it’s always better for the payments to come from an insurer rather than a personal bank account.
The steep cost of caring for this driver’s injuries illustrates the need for out-of-country supplemental health insurance.
Policies like this will be familiar to any Canadian “snowbird” who winters in the sunny south, and the same needs apply to commercial drivers who travel outside the reach of their provincial health plans.
Choosing the appropriate plan can be a challenging process, however. Even when cross-border coverage is included, benefits can have specific limits on everything from the situations that are covered to the amount being paid. The $100,000 limit on a credit card’s travel insurance might suffice for a quick cast on a broken arm, for example, but it will barely scratch the surface of costs involving something like a heart attack.
It’s why each policy needs to be measured carefully.
The Travel Health Insurance Association (THIA) recently reported that provincial health plans pay for a mere 9% of out-of-country medical costs. In addition to hospital stays, there are diagnostic services, emergency transportation and prescription drugs to consider.
Patients might need to take special flights back to Canada or have family members come to help them in hospital.
Some policies are enhanced with related support. Most insurers, for example, offer a hotline that can be called to help identify an approved medical facility and coordinate care.
Medical transfers are another matter altogether. The driver who was injured in California was eventually transferred back to Canada, for care in a Toronto hospital, but that flight alone cost $100,000.
While much support is available, there will also be limits.
Most plans require policyholders to disclose pre-existing medical conditions, and even changes in status that involve something like a different dose of an existing medication.
Something as simple as a prescribed baby aspirin could be cited as proof of a pre-existing heart condition. Depending on the policy, a change like that could restrict travel for several months until a situation stabilizes.
The policies also differ in how they approach such details. Some require all the medical conditions to be reported. Others simply publish a clear-cut list of what they will and will not cover.
Unfortunately, many people have failed to follow the guidance. Nearly one in five people said in a recent survey that they mistakenly provided inaccurate information on their insurance forms. Just one in three reviewed the insurance forms with their physicians.
As is the case with insurance of any sort, drivers should be encouraged to carry proof of any coverage with them at all times. If care is required, it is also wise to ask for detailed invoices to help with the claims to follow.
The issue is not unique to employees, either. Fleets may also want to review personal and fleet policies with any owner/operators, so that everyone understands what will be covered and what won’t. In many cases, the owner/operator’s personal policy will take precedence, so it will be important to ensure the limits are adequate – particularly in cases where they have opted out of WSIB coverage.
Everybody will want to ensure that adequate healthcare is available. It’s the Canadian way.
This month’s expert is Kevin Brandon, risk services specialist. Kevin has served the industry for more than 25 years in loss control, transportation safety and insurance risk engineering. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long-standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.
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