Take care on your next flight, Snowbirds. When you next head south for the winter — or venture abroad later in the year— Ontario’s emergency travel insurance coverage will be a thing of the past.

The Ontario government announced today it will move forward with the plan to cut the government funded program that offers basic out-of-country travel insurance.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the Progressive Conservative government decided to make the change after holding a six-day public consultation that ended Tuesday.

Elliot says the program’s administrative costs are too high and the level of coverage too low to assist travellers who depend on private insurance as it is. The province estimates it spends $2.8 million to administer approximately $9 million in claim payments every year.

She says that broader public outreach will be necessary to remind travellers to purchase health insurance before they leave the country.

When the cut is made official, Ontario will become the first province to remove medical emergency reimbursement for people travelling abroad.

The program currently covers Ontarians for out-of-country inpatient services up to $400 per day for a higher level of care such as medical services provided in intensive care units or surgical wards, and $200 per day for other care. In addition, $50 per day is allowed for outpatient and doctor services.

Critics have said the move will particularly hurt older travellers, who make up more than half of all Canadians who embark on an out-of-country trip.

According to Vividata from 2018, of the 11 million Canadians who travelled overnight outside of Canada in the past 12 months, about 6 million — or 56 per cent — were 45-plus. And regardless of the length of the trip, the 45-plus crowd accounted for more than all other age groups combined making the proposed government cut very much an issue for older Canadians.

“CARP is very concerned about these recent cuts. Our members, and all older Canadians, may now be more vulnerable to health care costs out of country,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CARP’s Chief Policy Officer. “Canadians will also need to ensure that any extended coverage is not predicated on OHIP coverage.”

While OHIP’s current coverage for international trips doesn’t come close to covering most emergency medical costs and requires travellers to supplement their coverage with private insurance, the move could result in an increase in premiums. According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, the increase could be about 7.5%.

Perhaps even more worrying are cases where a traveller has pre-existing health conditions that can make the cost of private insurance exorbitant.

“The Canadian Federation of Pensioners is against these cuts. By the age of retirement, the majority of older adults have pre-existing conditions, which make private insurance unaffordable or ineligible, “ said Michael Powell, President of the Canadian Federation of Pensions, adding that some retirees may face yet another problem.  “Many of those people are currently covered by extended benefits from their previous employer, and often to get a claim paid, OHIP coverage is required,” Powell said.

The government initially justified its plan by saying OHIP covers a small amount — just five per cent — of the cost of the typical medical emergency Canadians may face while travelling abroad, so purchasing travel insurance is already necessary.

Addressing the province’s $11.7 billion deficit, Progressive Conservative legislator Robin Martin said, “We don’t have an unlimited amount of money, obviously. We want to maximize value we get for people and we think that this is not an effective use of our resources.”

Calling the proposed cut “disturbing,” NDP legislator Marit Stiles called out the government for attempting to sneak the change past Ontario residents “without having a conversation with the folks who will be affected, who travel overseas or to the south during the winter months.”

“I don’t know how this government can be making this decision at all,” she told the CBC.

Even so, with provinces tightening budgets across the country, it raises the question: Ontario may be the first at eliminating out-of-country medical coverage, but will it be the last? Probably not.