Group travel insurance in a COVID world

by | Jun 5, 2022 | Take 5 Articles, Travel medical insurance

As pandemic restrictions ease globally and employees start travelling again, it’s important for employers to make sure they’re protecting business travellers and reminding all travellers to build flexibility into their arrangements.

“Canadians underestimate the cost of health care in other countries. Here, we have the ability to go to the hospital and just flash a health card and every expense is paid. We don’t realize that when you’re not in your home country, you cannot flash that card. Somebody has to pay for it,” says Laurent Brosseau, sales vice-president at Aetna International in Montreal.

The cost of COVID-related health care, if needed while travelling, can be staggering. In the United States, for example, Brosseau says average hospital expenses associated with COVID-19 are in the US$50,000 to US$80,000 range, and hospitalization in an intensive care unit with a ventilator can easily reach US$1 million. 

Laurent Brosseau

Laurent Brosseau, Sales Vice-President at Aetna International in Montreal


Travelling for business

Policies designed to protect business travellers typically offer comprehensive coverage that does not exclude known risks in specific countries and travellers’ pre-existing conditions.

“Business travel plans do not have vague wording that could potentially expose travellers to large out-of-pocket amounts,” Brosseau says. “If you’re going into a country where there’s a high risk of contracting an illness or if you’re going to a dangerous country where there’s a risk of injury because of a high crime rate in the area, you’re still covered.” 

He adds, “When the pandemic struck, many group benefits advisors and plan sponsors realized the limitations and opted for additional coverage to make sure their employees were covered appropriately when travelling for business, addressing their duty of care liability.”

Travelling for fun

In contrast, policies for people leaving the country on vacation are considerably less airtight, and group insurers responded to the pandemic by more frequently enforcing exclusions. 

Brosseau suggests vacationers check group travel insurance policies carefully for words like “unforeseen” and “unexpected.” If there’s any doubt about what will be covered, “call your insurer and ask those questions and get a clear response in writing. If it’s not satisfactory, ask again until it’s clear what’s covered or not,” he advises.

Brosseau points out that COVID-related costs may go beyond hospitalization. For example, if someone tests positive and can’t travel home on the scheduled date or tests positive at a point of connection, additional accommodation and meal costs can add up, and trip cancellation/trip interruption benefits have limits and may not apply to a travel companion who isn’t unwell. 

Stay informed, stay agile

Whether employees are travelling for business or pleasure, they should consider whether they can work remotely if they’re away longer than expected. That’s particularly important because service on some routes isn’t as frequent as it used to be, which means that rebooking to get home can be tricky. Brosseau adds that travellers should build in more generous connection times to accommodate the possibility of long lines at airports and reduce the risk of missing a flight. 

“Prepare to be flexible,” says Brosseau. “Part of living with COVID-19 is understanding the risk you’re exposing yourself to – and the risk you’re exposing your employer to if you’re travelling for business.”