It's exciting to travel outside the U.S., but your trip could end up costing you thousands of dollars more than you anticipated if you have an accident or become ill and don't have a travel medical insurance policy.
No one can predict when or where a medical emergency will occur, and an unexpected hospital stay overseas could quickly turn a relaxing getaway into a stressful financial setback.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American health insurance typically isn't accepted outside of the U.S. While it isn't pleasant to contemplate being injured or falling ill while vacationing, you'll be better off if you're prepared for any outcome.
“Medicare participants, citizens of countries covered by national health services, and most U.S. health plans generally do not cover expenses incurred outside of the U.S.,” said Andrew Bard, SVP of the Americas and Sales for HCC Medical Insurance Services in Indianapolis.
“While some U.S. health insurance plans may have a network outside the U.S., it will be limited. If you wind up in an emergency situation at an out of network provider, your claim will be denied leaving you with potentially debilitating financial obligations.”
San Diego travel agent Greg Gross of Trips By Greg also sees value in having a health insurance policy that covers you when you're abroad. According to Gross, this is especially true for people who engage in high-risk travel activities, such as mountain climbing.
"If your vacation is going to consist of skiing or mountaineering in the French Alps, or you're taking a bike and following the course of the Tour de France, you would be well advised to consider it," he said. The price of travel medical insurance is typically based on the traveler's age, the length of the trip, the amount of coverage, and any potential add-ons to the policy such as extreme sports coverage.
The U.S. Travel Insurance Association reports that a physician overseas may refuse you medical treatment if you lack health insurance. Carol Walsh, executive director of the association, said that bills associated with a medical emergency can easily approach $100,000 for serious conditions.
If you plan to travel to a remote location, it's a good idea to research travel medical insurance options and choose a policy that will pay for any necessary emergency medical transportation. According to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute (III), these types of plans will provide coverage if you need to be airlifted from a mountain following a hiking or skiing mishap.
The piece of mind of having an evacuation benefit while abroad should be reason enough to spend a couple dollars a day on a travel insurance plan,” Bard said.
Travel health policies typically pay to transport you to the nearest hospital that can provide adequate care, and then fly you home if you need to be returned to the U.S. in order to receive proper care. "You have to think about the quality of medical care where you are and how you're going to get home," Gross said.
According to the III, a patient may be required by airlines to travel on a stretcher and be accompanied by a doctor. That could require the purchase of additional airline seats at a cost of thousands of dollars.
Bailey Richert, author of "50 International Travel Preparation Tips," said travelers tend not to think about things that could go wrong -- such as injuries or illnesses -- when planning their trips. They're focused on the fun.
"In general, we don't think about the worst-case scenario happening to us," she said. "I am a huge proponent of travel health insurance."
According to AARP, an organization that advocates for Americans ages 50 and older, original Medicare health coverage for seniors generally doesn't pay for health care while you're traveling outside U.S. or its territories. However, some Medicare Advantage plans may provide such coverage, as well as some Medigap policies.
To be certain of their health benefits, people covered by Medicare programs should read over their plans before making a trip. Additional information is available at www.medicare.gov.
Travel medical insurance typically won't pay for the treatment of pre-existing conditions. That means there's no coverage for scheduled medical care, medications, or conditions that existed before your travel health plan took effect. If you have a chronic illness, be sure to ask your doctor if you're well enough to travel.
Other exclusions typically include pregnancies, births, and postnatal care. In addition, there's usually no coverage for lost eyeglasses or hearing aids.
If you're an adventurous traveler, be aware that medical costs for injuries that stem from participation in "extreme sports" are normally excluded from travel health policies. Extreme sports are generally considered to be activities which involve things like speed, height, and the use of special gear. For example, hang gliding and skydiving are often described as extreme sports.
If you plan to enjoy such activities on your trip, ask your insurance agent to give you a list of sports that are excluded from your plan.
Tokio Marine HCC - Medical Insurance Services Group (MIS Group) is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. We are regulated by the State of Indiana in our capacity as Third Party Administrator. Tokio Marine HCC - MIS Group has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by Tokio Marine HCC – International Group.