Ensure you’re covered by health insurance before you travel abroad
It sounded so simple. Two weeks along the Amazon. How could you say no? You dreamed, you packed, you departed. But you got malaria. You ended up sick and out of money.
You don’t have to let that happen. There’s a little something you should pack in your luggage before traveling outside the United States: your health insurer’s contact information and a supplemental health insurance policy. A travel journal, with key phone numbers and contact information, is vital as well.
No one wants to plan for a bad turn of events, but these precautions can reduce complications during a health emergency.
The U.S. State Department can contact your family and help route private money and your medical history to you. Still, the State Department emphasizes that you should call your health insurance provider before leaving.
|Supplemental health insurance can be a lifesaver if you become sick in a foreign place like Costa Rica.|
The department advises you to ask whether your policy applies overseas, and whether it covers emergency expenses, such as medical evacuation (which could cost up to $50,000). If it does not, consider supplemental insurance, the department suggests.
Health costs can mount quickly when you’re abroad. Supplemental health insurance policies for travel generally aren’t cheap. For a couple around age 50 planning a two-week trip — with a $50,000 coverage limit for each person — the total cost ranges from about $80 to $120 (including evacuation coverage). However, that policy may be priceless if a medical emergency arises.
Insurance professional Peter Evans says: “When you’re going overseas, the first thing you’ve got to look at is, ‘How am I going to be covered if I get into trouble, from a health perspective?’”
Evans is executive vice president of InsureMyTrip.com, an online provider of travel insurance information, including policy comparisons.
“Before you go, take stock of what you have and find something that will supplement it, to cover you while you’re sick abroad, and cover your evacuation,” Evans says. Most policies don’t cover foreign emergencies to the extent consumers may expect. “They provide only partial coverage, if any,” Evans says.
Several types of insurance are available—coverage for one trip, ongoing travel or long-term residence. There’s also medical evacuation coverage, something that’s critical when you’re hundreds or thousands of miles from a good health care center.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out conditions that could affect your health when you’re traveling abroad, such as high altitude, pollution and availability of medicine. One phone number to jot down in your journal — the CDC’s international travelers hotline: 1-877-394-8747.
The American Society of Travel Agents knows the risks.
“We suggest member agents make their clients aware of the importance of purchasing travel insurance, which may include some health coverage, depending on the policy,” said Kristina Rundquist, a vice president at the travel agents group.
|The U.S. State Department recommends that you call your health insurance provider before jetting off to a place like Sydney, Australia.|
The travel agents group doesn’t make recommendations about any insurer. Consult your health care provider or an insurance advisory group for assistance with health insurance for travel.
InsureMyTrip.com’s Evans offers these insights:
• Review your current policy and know its limitations.
“There are policies that don’t cover you at all while you’re overseas; some HMOs don’t,” Evans says. “Be prudent, and make the small investment in a travel medical policy. If your policy only covers half of your medical costs, you have exposure.”
• Know that medical evacuation coverage is critical.
“If you fracture your leg in China, you may need to get from inner China back to Beijing to be properly treated,” Evans says. “No medical policies will cover that; you need to get a travel medical policy.”
• Realize that accessing money can be difficult.
“Some policies will provide money upfront, because many foreign countries will not accept a U.S. ID card. So they’ll do a prepaid certification to the hospital you are being admitted to. Most of your travel medical policies provide that,” Evans says.
• Keep in mind that a reputable insurance provider is important.
“Read the (policy) details. Read the fine print,” Evans says. “If you don’t have time, lean on folks like us. We can go through it with you and get the right plan for your particular trip.”
• Prepare for a language barrier.
Wherever you are, you may need an English-speaking doctor. InsureMyTrip.com and the State Department provide lists. Print one out and take it with you.
• Be aware of Medicare limitations if you’re a senior.
“Medicare’s basic plan doesn’t cover you overseas. You need to buy a supplemental Medicare plan, Plan C or above,” Evans says.
Medicare has a lifetime maximum of $50,000 and only covers 60 days outside the United States. It generally covers 80 percent of costs after a $250 deductible, but does not provide evacuation coverage.
–Ann Connery Frantz