Cuban Confusion

Do You Or Don't You Need Health Insurance?

That is the question.

On February 16th, the Cuban government announced that as of May 1 all tourists – including Canadians – would require medical coverage to be allowed into the country. Travellers who did not comply would have to buy insurance from local Cuban companies available at the airport, port or marina in order to enter Cuba.

Understandably, with 1.5 million Canadians visiting Cuba every year, the news of enforced health coverage had private insurance providers here in Canada chomping at the bit. Press releases and flyers were churning and everyone assumed supplemental health insurance was required.

Then came the clarification that, in fact, provincial health insurance cards are proof enough for the Cubans — which launched a confusing barrage of news reports. For the record, although the Cuban tourist board has not updated their Canadian website to indicate this important point of difference, they have confirmed to Take Off eh that Canadians with provincial health cards are permitted entry into the country. And although the rule was in force as of May 1, local Cuban airport officers have apparently not yet begun asking for the document.

The downside of the miscommunication is that consumers may be left with the impression that they shouldn’t bother buying additional health insurance. Supplemental health insurance should be viewed as a priority no matter what your destination. Without it you could face significant costs.

The Travel Health Association of Canada provides guidelines for coverage on their website

Here are several important points to consider:

  1. Because Canadian Provincial Health Insurance Plans do not make direct payments to out-of-country (or out-of-province) hospitals, doctors or clinics, you will have to bear the costs yourself and then apply to the Department of Health for re-imbursement. Wait times for reimbursement by Provincial Health Plans varies by province, but range between 90 days and 18 months.
  2. In-patient hospitalization reimbursement rates will be different, depending on the Provincial Health Plan in effect. The rates vary from province to province – from $200.00 to $400.00 per day for in-patient or intensive care. The cost of these services in most other countries often exceeds these amounts.
  3. Outpatient clinics, lab services, and other incidental charges related to out-of-country emergency medical care are often not covered by the Provincial Health Plans.
  4. Provincial plans will not provide evacuation back to Canada in emergency situations by airline or air ambulance, nor will they cover out of country ambulance services.

There are hundreds of disturbing stories of Canadian tourists incurring thousands of dollars of debt from travel mishaps. Ask any travel agent who has witnessed their own clients’ struggles — the small additional expense for insurance can pay back many times over.

For Cuba, the bottom line is that whether or not you buy additional medical coverage is totally up to you. But remember the old insurance adage ‘We hope you never need it, but we hope you have it…just in case.’

By Ron Pradinuk
Ron Pradinuk is past national president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Photo Credits: debstheleo

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.