Study Abroad tips: Make sure you have medical insurance!

Contributed by Hsieh Nien Fei, ILSC-Toronto, English through Journalism Student

Accidents can happen.  Photo credit: Flickr user Mitchell Gerskup

Accidents can happen. Photo credit: Flickr user Mitchell Gerskup

It’s just a typical school day. You’re walking on the street, sliding your smart-phone, laughing at your friend’s picture on Facebook. You aren’t really paying attention to the traffic sign, then… BAM!! A car hits you, and the last thing you remember is the sound of the ambulance siren. Then you wake up in hospital, and the nurse comes in with a list of costs that you have to pay. The number of zeroes makes you feel really sick, and you start to pray that your health insurance covers it.

The last thing you want to happen when you are abroad is to get sick. Having a toothache, catching a cold, or even worse – a physical accident, can ruin your otherwise exotic experience. Moreover, the expense followed by the treatment adds to your anxiety and discomfort. Unlike back home where your family can take good care of you, you are alone in an unfamiliar environment, and it becomes more complex to seek medical help all by yourself. To be safeguarded, having a health insurance plan is considered to be efficient and effective.

In fact, Canada is one of the countries where the profound social health care system earned its reputation around the world, and most Canadians are proud of their medical system for its fairness and affordable price. Canadians are offered nearly universal coverage under their health care, though different provinces have different regulations.

In Ontario, unfortunately, only citizens are eligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), whereas in Alberta, BC, and Saskatchewan, international students can also participate the provincial health plan. So for us who study temporarily in Toronto, either we have already bought a health insurance plan from our own country before coming here, or we are still considering whether to buy one after arriving, it is suggested that we have a basic understanding about the insurance plan and how it works best for us.

First, figure out what is covered within your insurance plan. Is it for emergency only or is comprehensive support included? Take OHIP as an example: it provides global support except for dental and eye exams, which means if you don’t have private insurance for those, you will end up with a large bill to pay. Even a basic examination and teeth cleaning can cost hundreds of dollars. When it comes to necessity, a tip before seeing a dentist is to check the fee guide provided by that province’s dental association. You may still compare prices in different clinics since they can vary.

Rescue Helicopters can save your life, but they don't come cheap! Photo credit: Flickr user, Highway Patrol Images

Rescue Helicopters can save your life, but they don’t come cheap! Photo credit: Flickr user, Highway Patrol Images

Second, pay attention to whether your insurance coverage is limited in certain areas. If you travel to another country, is it still applicable? Even for Canadians, not all charges are covered when residents search medical help in another province because each province has its own health care system. As for mine, though it covers emergency service only, no matter what country I visit, as long as it’s a foreign country, the charge is all covered.

Third, there is one important category related to transportation, which you might easily neglect, such as ambulance services, air evacuation, or even returning to your home country.

Here is a true story from my country. A backpacker who worked in a meat processing factory in Australia accidently fell into a hot boiler and got seriously burned. In order to save time, a helicopter was arranged to rescue him, and it took him to the local hospital. Then, he was charged around $52,000 for it!

For students at ILSC (in Toronto at least), the school has worked with one particular insurance company for a long time. All you need to do is to apply to the school and decide how many days you want to be covered (it costs $2 per day). The plan has basically all essential benefits, even including dental and eye exams. Once you apply, the company will give you an ID card, which you have to present as well as your passport when you have to see a doctor. Some hospitals cooperate with the company so the charge is all covered, while others require you to pay first and keep the receipts to get the money back.

My friend once had an emergency, and she had to pay $1100 in total. After she informed the company and within two weeks she received around 80% of the total.

Rather than depending on personal medicine, going to a doctor and getting a prescription can be another option for you. After all, you want to be back home safe and sound. I hope your stay abroad will be a safe one, but since anything can happen unexpectedly, not losing a fortune will make any accident seem less painful.

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