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Province extends health coverage for snowbirds and long-term vacationers

Albertans can now overwinter for an extra month

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

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Four-and-a-half months of the year Laurie Andrews takes refuge at his second home in Phoenix, Ariz., faraway from the harsh Canadian winter.

He typically flies south Oct. 1 each year, returning to St. Albert for Christmas, and goes back to Phoenix come February.

An extension to health care coverage for snowbirds and longer-term vacationers announced Tuesday means Andrews can potentially prolong his stay south of the border an extra month.

Snowbirds and vacationers can now be out of the country for up to seven months (212 days) out of the year, up from the current six-month (182 day) limit.

The province has made the extension effective immediately, applying to travellers that have already left for the season.

“It’s definitely a lot more convenient,” said Andrews. “If people have the means to be able to travel … it gives you more flexibility. Even if you’re not a snowbird, it still pertains to how many months you are out of the country.”

Retired St. Albert resident Lionel Bergevin recently purchased a property with friends in Arizona’s San Tan Valley. He explained there are a large number of snowbirds in the community, his next-door neighbour there hails from Red Deer.

Although he only spends a couple of weeks at a time in the 48th state per trip, Bergevin said the policy change is positive for both travellers and the economy.

“The merchants in Arizona say that business dies considerably when the snowbirds leave by mid April. The business really takes a downturn,” he noted.

Alberta joins four other provinces that have legislated extended health care coverage for snowbirds and longer-term vacationers. B.C., Ont. and Man. have 212 day health care coverage limits while N.L. permits 240 days.

“This is welcome news for our members who told us they wanted the option to visit other countries for several months at a time, without sacrificing their health care coverage. Extending coverage for an extra month gives travellers more flexibility,” said Michael MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Canadian Snowbird Association.

Increasing the amount of time longer-term vacationers are permitted out of the province allows Alberta residents to remain eligible for health coverage as long as they have not established permanent residence elsewhere.

Lynda Moffat, president of the local chamber of commerce, purchased a home in Chandler, Ariz. five years ago.

Although she has no immediate plans to retire, the potential snowbird looks forward to taking advantage of an extended stay.

“I think it’s a great idea. Why should people be under such pressure?” she remarked. “They’re retired and they’re enjoying their life.”

Albertans who plan to be out of the province for extended periods need to contact Alberta Health (http://www.health.alberta.ca/AHCIP/contact-AHCIP.html) each year before leaving, to ensure their health care coverage remains current.


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