What Options Are Available For Chronically Ill Expats In Canada?

A chronic illness is not necessarily a debilitating disease. The term includes conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma, which are commonplace around the world. Many of us give them little thought, especially if we are living in our home country, but they require ongoing care, including medication and regular checkups with a healthcare professional. Other types of chronic illness may be much more complicated, and therefore require an entirely different level of healthcare.If you suffer from a form of chronic illness and are planning to move abroad, then there are various considerations to take into account. You will need to plan in advance to make sure you get the correct level of care and that any medication you need is easily accessible.

Canada has a universal healthcare system funded by taxes. Each province has its own regulatory body responsible for the healthcare in that region, and permanent residents must apply for the correct provincial health card in order to be covered. The standard of healthcare in Canada is considered very high, but the system is struggling somewhat, particularly with long waiting times.

Some provinces have a waiting period of up to three months before you can receive a card entitling you to free healthcare, which means that, depending on the province you will be living in, you may need to purchase private healthcare insurance to cover this period. Of course, if you suffer from a chronic illness, then private healthcare insurance may be something that you will have to consider anyway, in order to supplement the public healthcare you are entitled to.

The Canadian public healthcare system, while comprehensive, is not all encompassing. So if you have a chronic illness, you should do thorough research before you travel there, in order to get a better understanding of whether you will need supplementary cover, and, if so, what level of cover you may need.

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The Canadian public healthcare system, while comprehensive, is not all encompassing.

Getting organised

If you are moving abroad and suffer from a chronic illness, then getting organised is imperative. There are several things that you can do prior to making your move, to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible, including:

Research the healthcare system
It’s always a good idea to research the local healthcare system as much as possible prior to moving. Look on official government websites, provincial health websites, in the case of Canada, and expatriate forums, to get a good idea of what the health system covers. You want to have a good grasp on how everything works, where to sign up, who to visit, how to get repeat prescriptions etc.

Stock up on medication
This isn’t always possible, but if you are able to stock up on your medication before you move, then this will keep you going, in the event that things take a bit longer than anticipated. It is always best to discuss this with your doctor, as some pharmacies in your home country may only give you a limited amount, such as two months’ worth of medication, whereas your doctor may be able to write a prescription for more. You should also double check the regulations for bringing medication into the country, and take a doctor’s note and/or prescription with you in your hand luggage, just in case you are stopped.

Gather your medical records
If you are moving to a new country with a chronic illness, it’s a good idea to have a copy of your medical records, or a signed doctor’s letter summarising your condition and medical requirements. This may need to be translated, depending on which country you are moving from, or which province in Canada you are moving to, as some of the provinces speak French.

Find the best travel option
Depending on your condition, you may have certain travel requirements. For example, you may need additional space to feel comfortable, or require assistance. These are all important things to consider, not only for travel from your home country to Canada, but also how you are going to get from the airport to your new home etc.

Finding a doctor who speaks your language
If you have any concerns about language barriers, it is worth trying to find a doctor who speaks your language. Alternatively, you could enlist the help of a translator, to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or miscommunications.

If you are moving to a new country with a chronic illness, it’s a good idea to have a copy of your medical records.

Health insurance and pre-existing medical conditions

Every insurance provider will ask you to detail any pre-existing medical conditions, before they assess you for a quote or an offer. Even conditions that may seem trivial, like asthma, should be declared. If you fail to declare a pre-existing medical condition to your insurance provider, and you then require medical assistance in connection to this condition, it will not be covered. In some cases, failure to declare pre-existing medical conditions can even render your entire policy null and void.

Typically, private healthcare policies that offer the correct cover for chronic conditions are more expensive, but this will save you money in the long run, compared to having insurance that does not cover the condition, and paying for the bulk of medical costs out of pocket. Some medical insurance providers may agree to only cover the stabilisation of acute flare-ups related to a chronic illness. Others may cover routine maintenance of chronic conditions. In some cases, regular insurers may not cover chronic conditions at all. Therefore, you may need to research a specialist insurance provider that specifically provides cover for chronic illnesses.

You should always have a very clear understanding about what your insurance does and does not cover, and, if you don’t, you should seek clarification from your provider.

Employer health insurance

Nearly two thirds of expatriates receive medical cover in the form of private healthcare provided by their employer. If your employer has such a plan in place, you should find out as quickly as possible whether it covers chronic conditions or not. You will need to speak to your employer to clarify whether it provides adequate medical cover for you, or whether you will need to purchase a supplementary extension, or even a separate health insurance policy entirely.


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