Healthcare and Medical Coverage Abroad | Rodgers & Associates
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Planning an Overseas Vacation? Do you Have Appropriate Medical Coverage?

Your travel itinerary is set, and your overseas vacation will begin soon. You have thought of every­thing — passport, flight arrange­ments, hotel bookings. All that is left is to pack your bags. There is one step you may not have considered. Are you prepared for a medical emergency while you are out of the country? What if you are in an accident and can’t speak for yourself?

Even those who are in good health can encounter a medical issue that was previ­ously undiag­nosed. Most of us have a regular doctor who is only a phone call away when we are at home. We know who to call in an emergency. Who do you call when you are out of the country? What if you don’t speak the language?

The first step is to create a medical bio to include with your travel itinerary. The bio should include a contact sheet of family and friends to contact in the case of emergency as well as a copy of health insurance infor­mation and contact phone numbers. Your bio would list current medical condi­tions and prescrip­tions you take regularly. Your health infor­mation should include any allergies, blood type, medical devices and a brief medical history. Listing all your immuniza­tions and the dates they were received would complete the bio.

Obtaining medical care overseas generally requires cash or credit card payment at the time of service. You cannot count on providers accepting insurance coverage from your home country. If you are traveling in a country that has nation­alized health care services, don’t assume nonres­i­dents will be covered. You may be faced with a large expen­diture up front, then get reimbursed by your stateside insurer later. When paying out-of-pocket for care overseas, you should obtain copies of all bills and receipts. If necessary, contact a U.S. consular officer, who can assist U.S. citizens with trans­ferring funds from the United States.

Medical Insurance

Contact your current medical insurer to determine what coverage is already available to you when you travel overseas. Many U.S. insurers cover overseas medical treatment, but Medicare is not one of them. Pay close attention to any policy exclu­sions or preau­tho­rization require­ments. Here is a partial list of exclu­sions to watch for:

  • The insurer’s policy for “out-of-network” services
  • Exclu­sions for high-risk activ­ities such as skydiving, scuba diving, and mountain climbing
  • Exclu­sions regarding psychi­atric emergencies
  • Exclu­sions for injuries related to terrorist attacks, acts of war, or natural disasters

Some people believe their credit card provides travel health insurance. They should review this benefit closely. Most offer travel accident insurance that pays only in the event of accidental death and/or dismem­berment while traveling.

The U.S. State Department period­i­cally issues warnings about traveling to at-risk countries. If you’re visiting one of these countries, your medical insurance will likely not be honored, unless you buy supple­mental coverage.

Supplemental Travel Health Insurance

You may want to consider buying a special medical travel policy even if your health plan does cover you overseas. Travel health insurance and medical evacu­ation insurance are both short-term supple­mental policies that cover health care costs on a trip and are relatively inexpensive. Overseas hospitals will often work directly with your travel-insurance carrier on billing but not with your regular health insurance company. This is partic­u­larly true in emergency situa­tions involving costly proce­dures or overnight stays. Non-emergency doctor visits will likely be an out-of-pocket expense.

Another advantage of travel health insurance is that they cover many pre-existing condi­tions depending on when you buy the coverage and how recently you’ve been treated for the condition. In addition to covering costs of treatment or medical evacu­ation, the travel health insurer can also assist in organizing and coordi­nating care and keeping relatives informed. This is especially important when the traveler is severely ill or injured and requires medical evacu­ation.

Evacuation Insurance

Even if you have covered the cost of getting medical care, the quality of care may be inade­quate. Medical evacu­ation from a resource-poor area to a hospital where defin­itive care can be obtained may be necessary. The cost of evacu­ation can start at $25,000 and exceed $250,0001. Be sure to check the emergency medical trans­portation benefit on the travel health policy you are consid­ering. The benefit limit can be as high as $500,000 or $1 million, depending on which plan you choose. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention advises2 all travelers to scrutinize all policies before purchase, looking for those that provide:

  • Arrange­ments with hospitals to guarantee payments directly
  • Assis­tance via a 24-hour physician-backed support center (critical for medical evacu­ation insurance)
  • Emergency medical transport to facil­ities that are equiv­alent to those in the home country or to the home country itself (repatri­ation)
  • Any specific medical services that may apply to their circum­stances, such as coverage of high-risk activ­ities

A discussion of insurance options is an important part of any pretravel consul­tation. Partic­u­larly for those who plan extended travel outside the United States, have under­lying health condi­tions, partic­ipate in high-risk activ­ities, or if the desti­nation is remote and lacks high-quality medical facil­ities.

Severe illness or injury abroad may result in a financial burden when traveling. Although planning for every possible contin­gency is impos­sible, travelers can reduce the cost of a medical emergency by planning ahead. Take the time to create a medical bio to take with you and review your insurance coverages. Buy supple­mental coverage if needed.

Rick’s Tips:

  • Medical insurance may not be honored when traveling in a country identified as at-risk by the U.S. State Department.
  • Overseas hospitals often work directly with travel-insurance carriers on billing but not with regular health insurance companies.
  • Travel health insurers can also assist in organizing and coordi­nating care and keeping relatives informed.

Five myths about medical evacu­a­tions. USA Today. July 6, 2015

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Chapter 2 – Obtaining Health Care Abroad. By Rhett J. Stoney.