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Personal Insurance 101 ... what to know and where to start 

Let's face it, learning about insurance is no one's idea of light weekend reading. But it is important to understand what you have, what you need, and what's out there to consider. There are a myriad of different types of insurance, covering everything from natural disasters to Great Aunt Mable's pearls. For now, let’s stick to the basics of health and life. Here's a breakdown of five types of personal insurance you should consider as part of a smart financial plan.

health insurance

Health insurance

First up, health insurance, which covers some or all of your medical bills if you're injured or ill. Think of how important your health is to your work, your personal life, your family. Think of how pricey even routine health expenses can be, let alone nasty surprises.

In Canada, health insurance is split between the province and private insurers. Most of you know that in Ontario, residents are covered by OHIP (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan), but OHIP’s limitations often come as a surprise. While it’s great news for families that the government recently expanded OHIP to cover some prescription drugs for children, for most adults coverage is limited to visits to the doctor, some diagnostic tests, and in-hospital stays. You’re on the hook for everything else.

For this reason 24 million Canadians have opted to buy additional health insurance through private insurers. These plans cover basics like dental and vision care and routine prescription drugs. They also protect you in case of more serious accident or injury that can involve big, unmanageable bills.

Group vs. Individual Health Plans

The holy grail of health insurance is a good group benefits plan through an employer. Count yourself lucky if you have one of these. Good benefits are a huge draw to employees because the employer is required to pay at least part of the cost and all full-time employees are eligible, regardless of pre-existing health conditions.

However, if your company doesn't offer benefits, you still have options. Individual health plans such as Health Plus are available. Just make sure you look past the ads. While you obviously want a good price,  make sure you also consider the coverage maximums and limits for the services that are important to you. Some plans look good on the surface but coverage is actually quite inadequate and their rates keep going up. Look for a plan that balances good coverage and stable, reasonable rates.

Marketing of Health Spending Accounts is also on the rise. These are usually pitched as an alternative to group insurance for small business because they provide reimbursement for a wide variety of health expenses to a predetermined amount (e.g $1000-$2500). Employees/employers pay into an account to cover the claims. The flexibility of HSAs for routine expenses can be appealing but the biggest pitfall? They aren't insurance. If you're faced with a serious medical issue, they don't measure up. 

life insurance

Life insurance pays a tax-free lump sum of money to family or other beneficiaries named in your policy. It can protect your loved ones in the event of your death by providing money to pay funeral costs, debts, or simply to continue paying everyday expenses. Policies are available as term life insurance, which covers you for a specific time period, or permanent life insurance, which as the name suggests, covers you as long as the premiums are paid. Permanent life insurance may also accumulate cash value you can use, should you live to a ripe old age or want the money sooner.

disability insurance

If you become sick or injured and unable to work, disability insurance provides a monthly tax-free payment to replace some of your lost income. Not only can health bills take a toll but so can everyday expenses. Disability insurance helps you maintain your standard of living, even if you’re ability to work has changed.

critical illness insurance

Different than disability insurance, critical illness insurance provides a tax-free lump sum payment if you’re diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, heart attack, or stroke. The money is yours to use as you see fit, whether that’s on additional medical treatment or supplies, living expenses, household help, or even a vacation.

long term care insurance

Long term care insurance pays cash to help cover the costs of care in your home or a healthcare facility. Anyone who has helped care for an aging or disabled relative will know good care can be expensive and sometimes too hard to find. Canada's aging population, with seniors making up 15% and projected to rise to 25% within the next 20 years, makes having a plan in place all the more important. With this strain on the system, insurance gives you more control and choice in where and how you live.  

Travel insurance

Although it's not exactly in the same category of benefits, travel insurance gets an honourable mention as sixth on our list because it can be confusing to sort out. It’s also part of smart planning. When looking it's especially important to be clear on what you need and what a plan covers. Out-of- Canada emergency health coverage, a very good idea to protect yourself in case of illness or injury while you’re away, is included in some but not all health insurance plans. And some plans limit the activities covered. Additional travel insurance is also available to cover risks such as trip cancellation, delay, or lost baggage. All of these mishaps can put a serious damper on an otherwise great trip so why not plan ahead. 

So that’s the list of personal insurance to help protect your cash now and for the long run. And that’s not just our view. In a recent Globe and Mail article "Forget falling stock markets. These are the things in life you really should be worried about" Rob Carrick includes insurance as part of sound money management.

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