With people beginning to travel or planning to travel outside the United States again, we want to cover the important topic of travel coverage.
Our concern about travel coverage is not with respect to trip cancellation or lost baggage. We are addressing the importance of having coverage for urgent and emergent medical conditions when you are outside the United States, and for medical evacuation, depending on where you travel.
Another important issue today while traveling is testing positive for COVID 19 and not being symptomatic but having to quarantine or reschedule your plans. That, however, is a topic for another day since it is an evolving topic. We do recommend NOT buying a plan with an epidemic exclusion.
To start with, know if you currently have travel coverage with a medical benefit through your current health plan. Some group plans include travel coverage and some Medicare supplements include foreign travel emergency coverage with a $50,000 lifetime maximum. $50,000 is not enough coverage and Medicare itself is not designed to provide coverage outside the United States and does so in only the most limited circumstances not worth mentioning. A Medicare Advantage Plan might include foreign travel emergency benefits but is not required to offer such benefits. Individual coverage is not designed to provide coverage outside the United States. Some people believe they have adequate coverage through a personal credit card. The point is that if you are traveling outside the United States, you should know what coverage you have and consider whether you need additional coverage.
Most people shop on-line for travel coverage. As with any other policy you might purchase, seek out reputable companies with a track record. Do your homework; read reviews. Factors that influence the cost of such coverage are the number of countries you visit, the length of your trip, your age, your health status, the amount of coverage you decide to purchase and whether the policy includes evacuation and/or repatriation. Repatriation is the term for the benefit that would cover returning you home (or, quite grimly, your body, in case of death) to the United States. Many will find travel coverage fairly affordable which is always good news. Remember when you purchase travel coverage, the transaction must occur before you begin your travels.
Even if you have travel coverage from a reputable company, there can still be disagreements and disputes. Evacuation benefits typically state that coverage is limited to the closest hospital capable of treating you — not the place of your choice. Some providers might insist on payment at the time of service regardless of whether you can prove you have travel coverage. In some situations, you may have balance bills or pre-existing condition exclusion issues.
In sum, however, having a dispute over bills associated with foreign travel emergency coverage is preferable to having no coverage. And it is a great advantage if you have an urgent or emergent matter to have a third party that can be involved in your care, especially in an area where providers may not be fluent in English.
The world is opening up again which is wonderful BUT, please, do assess the risks associated with any foreign travel and take steps to protect yourself and your family.
Maura Carley, MPH, CIC, is the Founder and President of Healthcare Navigation, which she started in 1999 after years of executive management experience in various healthcare organizations. Her company provides subscription and consulting services, non-Medicare and Medicare, to clients looking for support ‘navigating’ an often-complicated industry.
Carley is also the author of Health Insurance: Navigating Traps and Gaps, which became Amazon’s #1 best seller on health insurance shortly after its publication in 2012 and was awarded the Living Now Book award in 2015.