Cuba-bound Canadian tourists are urged to update their travel insurance documents and, if necessary, re-evaluate their coverage in anticipation of a huge influx of American visitors burdening the Caribbean nation's emergency health care infrastructure this coming fall and winter season.
With the signing of an agreement granting scheduled commercial U.S. airlines up to 110 flights to Havana and nine other outlying airports each day, Canadians and other nationals can expect more competition and higher prices for all of Cuba's goods and services—including care in local hospitals and clinics.
The Cuban Tourist Board (CTB) in Toronto has re-affirmed to Ingle International that all visitors to Cuba must carry proof of health insurance that will cover them while in Cuba. This requirement will apply to Americans as it has to Canadians and other nationals since 2010, when the measure was first passed. Should visitors lack such proof, they will be required to buy coverage from Cuban insurance companies situated at or close by the various ports of entry.*
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A representative of the CTB emphasized to Ingle that, although proof of Canadian provincial health insurance will meet the entry requirement, such insurance will not cover in-country emergency health care services or air ambulance repatriation, and the individual traveller would be responsible for fully paying billed charges before being allowed to leave Cuba.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also warns that in most hospitals in Cuba guarantee of payment (or payment in cash) must be provided in advance; the agency also advises travellers to check with their insurance company for payment/reimbursement procedures. It also advises all travellers to Cuba to purchase travel insurance from Canadian companies before they leave Canada.
Robin Ingle, CEO of Ingle International, a company that handles international insurance products for most of Canada's major international travel insurers, cautions that hospital and clinic costs in Cuba can be quite high for tourists. Consequently, Canadians should purchase travel insurance that provides a suitable coverage level and doesn't require them to pay up front. This should save a lot of anxiety—and out-of-pocket costs.
"Each year, Canadians make over one million visits to Cuba, and most say they will definitely return. With the expected surge of U.S. travellers, the Cuban infrastructure might well be tested. We can only advise that Canadians have their travel documents in good order and be fully aware of what their travel insurance covers, as well as what it limits or excludes," says Ingle.
"You don't want to be stranded in Cuba or any other country facing demands for a medical bill that far exceeds your credit card limit. And if you have appropriate coverage from a major Canadian company, you won't have to go through the trouble of paying the hospital, clinic, or doctor up front and then seeking reimbursement once you get home," says Ingle.
He notes that Ingle International has worked with Asistur, Cuba's primary travel medical assistance company, for over twenty years. The two companies have developed a strong relationship during this time and have fine-tuned their approach to providing and coordinating assistance. Ingle works together with Asistur to transport people with emergency medical needs to appropriate facilities quickly, to monitor their care, and to facilitate payment requirements on behalf of their international insurance clients.
* Travel insurance purchased in Cuba from private companies provides far lower benefit levels than those available under Canadian plans. Canadian travel insurance plans cover up to $10 million for medical expenses, including air repatriation home when medically necessary. Cuban insurance, available at various ports of entry for approximately $4.50 per day, covers up to $25,000 (USD) for accident/illness costs and $15,000 for repatriation—not enough cover an air ambulance trip from Cuba to Canada.