Medical coverage while traveling outside the U.S.
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Using miles and points to travel to a foreign destination is fun and exciting — but careful planning in certain areas can be the difference between success and disaster.
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Sometimes unexpected illness or accidents happen while abroad. Being prepared for these unlikely events is just as important as planning your flights and accommodations. Health and safety are most important when traveling the world — medical coverage can be a complicated subject, and costs for treatment can be significant. This is something to consider amid the highly contagious coronavirus COVID-19. Will you be covered if you encounter the increasingly ubiquitous respiratory illness?
I’ll explain some medical coverage options to consider while traveling abroad.
U.S. medical benefits while traveling abroad
Depending on your age and employment status, you might be covered under a private employer health insurance plan. Or, if you’re age 65 or older, you might use Medicare, a public government health program (which covers coronavirus testing, by the way). Meanwhile, travelers under age 26 can be covered on their parents benefits.
So, how do these plans work while traveling? That’s a big question, but necessary to ask. Everyone’s coverage can be different. For example, private health insurance plans often exclude “non-emergency care when traveling outside the U.S.,” such as:
- Cosmetic surgery
- Annual check-up
- Ear infection
- Cold symptoms
For those who have Medicare coverage while traveling outside the U.S., emergency and non-emergency care are not provided (with few very limited exceptions). So what’s is the difference between emergency and non-emergency? Emergencies are considered medical conditions that require immediate attention to prevent serious health issues. Emergencies might include:
- Broken bone
- Heart attack
- High fever
- Serious allergic reactions (I’ve got a severe peanut allergy and am always on guard)
- Severe food poisoning
In light of the months-long coronavirus outbreak, some insurance providers specifically exclude coronavirus-related emergencies. Others offer coverage case-by-case. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll receive trip cancellation provisions. Certain providers like Seven Corners will offer coverage for medical expenses for those who have purchased a travel medical policy and fall ill to the coronavirus. They’ll also foot the bill for emergency medical evacuation and the expense to return the policyholder to the U.S., if possible.
Before traveling you should contact your health insurance company to verify your international medical benefits. Make sure to ask how medical treatment is paid while outside the country. You may be required to pay out of pocket and seek reimbursement later on. If you receive medical treatment while traveling, make sure to keep:
- Itemized bill of medical services received
- Copy of medical records
- Proof of payment
- Proof of travel
Good records will make sure you are reimbursed in a timely manner.
Purchase a Supplemental Travel Insurance policy
Because many U.S. health insurance plans offer limited coverage outside the U.S., you may consider purchasing a supplemental travel medical insurance policy. Supplemental policies can be a good idea for:
- Travelers with a history of medical problems
- People traveling outside the country for more than six months
- Older travelers insured through Medicare
There are great resources on the web to research supplemental travel insurance policies. I like to use InsureMyTrip to check prices and benefits when traveling outside the U.S. It’s very easy to use.
First, enter the country you will be traveling to and the dates of your trip. If you will be traveling to more than one country, you’ll need a multi-trip policy which you can select at the end of your search.
Then, input the ages of all travelers you’re looking to insure.
You’ll need to then input how much your trip will cost. If you used miles and points, you can enter $0. This section is applicable so you can purchase appropriate Trip Cancellation coverage
Then specify your arrangements for commute and accommodations.
You’ll then be taken to a page with offers from different insurance agencies. The results will show you the available plans to purchase for your trip including supplemental medical policies, comprehensive plans, and evacuation coverage. Look for notices at the top of the page, like this current one for COVID-19.
You can filter results by only medical coverage. Similar to regular health insurance, travel insurance policies are not one-size-fits-all. Pricing and coverage depend on a variety of factors such as:
- Age of the travelers
- Number of travelers
- Length of travel
- Type of coverage
Supplemental medical travel insurance plans can cost less than $10 for a week-long overseas trip. Or, you can spend more for comprehensive plans that include coverage for trip cancellation and trip delays. But remember you get these benefits when you book your trip with the best travel insurance credit cards.
What is covered with supplemental travel medical insurance plans?
Most supplemental medical policies typically cover the following:
- Services of a physician or nurse
- Hospital charges
- Local ambulance services to or from a hospital
- Prosthetic devices such as artificial limbs or artificial teeth
- Lost or forgotten medication
- Emergency dental treatment
Certain plans have limits to how much they will cover. You might be able to pay more upfront for a travel policy and increase the limits. It’s important to research how much coverage is provided by your policy. One item that is not included in all supplemental policies is emergency evacuation coverage. Should you need to be evacuated from your destination back to the U.S. or to another country for treatment, this coverage will cover the transportation expenses.
Evacuation coverage could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll get evacuation coverage when you purchase comprehensive plans and on certain medical plans. You can also purchase it separately, depending on where you’re going. Check the details of the coverage to see if family members are covered as well.
You can get travel insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition. Some medical travel plans cover you regardless of pre-existing conditions, while others may charge more or require additional paperwork. It’s important to read how the insurance companies define pre-existing conditions. Most consider a pre-existing condition an illness or medical condition you’ve had for a period of time prior to you purchasing travel insurance. Before purchasing a plan, make sure to read the details of how the company defines pre-existing conditions and if your plan will cover you.
Is a supplemental policy worth it?
Supplemental insurance can certainly be worth it.
My friend’s aunt and uncle recently purchased a supplemental policy before traveling from the U.S. to Istanbul for a 10-day cruise. Walking off the airplane stairs to board a shuttle bus, my friend’s aunt fell and injured her leg. They contacted the supplemental insurance company who arranged for an ambulance and interpreters to accompany them on the trip to the local hospital in Istanbul.
She received medical treatment costing ~$2,000 out of pocket. Because they purchased supplemental insurance, they were reimbursed 100% of their medical expenses and were amazed with the level of care they received in a foreign country.
Credit Card Travel Insurance
You’ll get a certain amount of travel insurance when you use certain credit cards to book your trip. Some cards include the following coverage without purchasing separate policies:
- Trip Interruption and Cancellation
- Trip Delay
- Rental Car Coverage
This travel insurance is different from travel medical insurance. Read our post on the best travel insurance credit cards.
When traveling outside the U.S., be prepared for unexpected illnesses or injuries. Before traveling you should:
- Verify your international health benefits with your current health benefit provider
- Determine your needs while traveling
- Analyze supplemental medical coverage plans
- Purchase a plan from an established company by researching reputable companies provided by the U.S. Department of State
Credit card trip insurance is different than travel medical insurance. Call your credit card company before your trip to see if you’ll have any medical coverage. Have you purchased supplemental travel insurance before? Share your tips in the comments! And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips and info like this delivered to your inbox.
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