A lot of people travel without carrying travel medical insurance. They assume that their health care coverage will follow them wherever they go. Nothing could be farther from the truth, especially when you are traveling abroad.
Most conventional health insurance policies don’t cover illness if you get sick or hurt on the road. For example, Medicare/Medicaid does not cover older members traveling outside the United States. Even if you check with your health insurance provider and they say they cover you when you travel, how much will they cover? If you belong to an HMO for example and you become ill when you are traveling, are you sure you can find an HMO affiliate nearby? If you can’t, then you will be liable for all costs. What about emergency care or evacuation?
And even if you are covered, there may be differences in deductibles or what your health insurance provider perceives as reasonable fees for service versus what you actually pay wherever you become ill. In many places, doctors and hospitals expect payment at the time services are provided. You can’t just hand them an insurance card and expect to make a co-payment, so you will have to pay for care and hope your insurance company will reimburse you.
Here are some questions (suggested by the U.S. Department of State) to ask your insurance provider before you travel abroad:
- Does this insurance policy cover emergency expenses abroad such as returning you to the United States for treatment if you become seriously ill?
- Does this insurance cover high-risk activities such as parasailing, mountain climbing, scuba diving and off-roading?
- Does this policy cover pre-existing conditions, and under what circumstances are pre-existing conditions waived?
- Does the insurance company require pre-authorizations or second opinions before emergency treatment or surgery can begin?
- Does the insurance company guarantee medical payments abroad?
- Will the insurance company pay foreign hospitals and foreign doctors directly?
- Does the insurance company have a 24-hour support center with language translation services?
Your best protection is to at least be covered by a travel medical insurance policy before you take a trip. If you buy a general travel insurance policy, these include medical coverage as a feature of a broader policy. Medical expenses only make up 13% of all travel insurance claims. In addition to medical expense coverage, a general travel insurance policy also covers loss due to cancellation, travel delay, and baggage losses.
Even healthy people under 35 should get travel medical insurance coverage for a trip. I know of a 25 year old that was jogging a rain forest path in South America for a morning work out. Wild dogs started chasing him, and to avoid being bitten, he jumped over a wall, not realizing there was a 200-foot drop off on the other side. He broke both his legs in the fall, and had to be evacuated to a hospital for surgery. He didn’t buy travel insurance and the cost was astronomical. Don’t risk leaving home without travel medical insurance, even if you are healthy. You never know when you might need it.