Open your U.S passport to page two and you may be surprised
by the following warning:
|HEALTH INSURANCE. Persons considering foreign travel
should determine what health insurance coverage, if any,
they require while outside the United States. Medicare does
not cover health care costs outside the United States and
its territories, except under limited circumstances in
Canada and Mexico.
The simple fact is that many international travelers do not have
appropriate insurance protection. Government sponsored health programs
such as Medicare almost never cover care received in a foreign country.
Employer-sponsored plans often limit overseas coverage to emergency care
only (and the burden will be on you to prove it's an emergency).
Emergency medical evacuation is almost never covered. Even if you're
traveling on business, you may have significant gaps in your coverage.
Why is insurance so critical for international travel?
Obtaining healthcare in some parts of the world can be tricky. Some
hospitals won't provide any treatment--or won't allow a patient to be
discharged--until the hospital has received a guarantee of payment. Such
guarantees are commonly provided by travel insurers, in conjunction with
assistance providers, but rarely by other insurers or managed care
plans. This means you'll have to pay in advance, perhaps as much as tens
of thousands of dollars, with your credit card. Of course, for this to
work the hospital must accept foreign credit cards and your card must
have a sufficient credit limit.
In addition, remember that leaving your destination--for a place with
higher quality medical care or to return home where your regular
insurance is accepted--can be difficult. Medical evacuations are tricky
to arrange and there are some air ambulance providers who should be
avoided. Worse, local authorities may have financial ties to certain
evacuation companies. The solution? Most travel insurance includes a
medical assistance benefit, which is critical. It gives you 24/7/365
access to a company that will arrange an evacuation for you with a
creditable evacuation company--or, through their medical personnel, can
help assure that you're getting appropriate treatment locally. The
assistance company will also be available to help with other travel
related problems such as legal troubles, lost passports or credit cards,
etc. Emergencies are rare but everyone should have a contingency plan.
Assess your personal health plan
If you have health insurance in the U.S., the first step is to check
with your insurance company and establish what kind of coverage you
have. If you have difficulty getting a straight answer, that alone
should be a warning. If you don't have insurance in the U.S., consider
that you might need it more than ever when traveling--and recognize that
the coverage can be cheap--as little as $3-4 a day.
Three Important Types
There are the three major types of coverage to consider. Most travel
insurance products offer all three or two of the three:
- Supplemental health/accident insurance.
Generally pay for doctor and hospital bills, and
sometimes dental care and medications.
Preventive care, such as an annual physical, is
Travel Health Insurance
is an example of this type of coverage.
- Medical Evacuation. This is key.
Evacuations can be expensive (as much as $50,000
or more from a remote location). In addition to
the coverage, you'll want assistance arranging
an evacuation. Almost all product types offer
coverage for medical evacuation.
- Trip cancellation/interruption. These
plans protect you financially in the event you
have to cancel or interrupt your trip for
medical reasons. For example, say you purchase a
$5,000 cruise but can't take it because of
personal illness--or illness in the family.
Depending on when you cancel, a significant
portion of the $5,000 may be non-refundable.
This type of insurance will reimburse you.
Obviously this protection is unnecessary for
plans offer this type of coverage (as well as
evacuation and supplemental health/accident).
Travel Health Insurance Basics -- Eliot C. Heher, MD (co-founder of
Highway to Health, Inc.)
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Global commerce and international travel are no longer the exception;
they are the rule. Many first-time international travelers do not
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