Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and countless intestinal bugs strike fear in the heart of people traveling outside of the U.S. these days. What happens when someone does get ill with a routine illness, a serious medical condition, breaks a hip or even is hit as a pedestrian? Contrary to what many believe, health insurance plans in the U.S. do not always cover treatment or they require the American to pay the hospital bill themselves and file a claim for reimbursement later. Travelers’ insurance with medical coverage or a supplemental medical insurance policy is critical for medical care abroad and to be transported home, whether for an accident or Ebola.
Nearly one-third of Americans taking trips outside the U.S. (and approximately 70 percent of those taking cruises) purchase insurance to cover itinerary issues, health issues that prevent one from going, lost baggage and more. However, specialized policies are often needed to cover certain sporting activities, non-emergency care, medical conditions and other situations.
There are specialized medical care insurance plans to care for travelers abroad whether they have an accident or contract a dangerous disease like Ebola. The plans vary for people with pre-existing medical conditions, planning a ski or snowboard trip, participating in outdoor sports excluded on other travel policies, studying abroad and working as a missionary or a volunteer (like those in West Africa who contracted Ebola).
To determine if additional insurance is needed, check the details on current insurance plans to see if planned activities, like surfing, will be covered in the event of an accident. Besides activities, know what to expect on health care expenses and evacuation, if needed.
Health Care Expenses and Evacuation
When traveling abroad, many health plans -including some with Aetna, Blue Cross and Kaiser- cover emergencies in other countries. But others, especially Medicare and Medicaid, limit coverage to the U.S. and its territories. Travelers should also note that they are not covered like citizens in countries with universal health care, such as Canada.
Before embarking on a trip, find out if short-term travel medical insurance coverage is needed. Health insurance policies that cover emergency care in the U.S. do not always cover emergency care elsewhere. Or they limit emergency care to something that could lead to permanent damage or even death. Emergency coverage doesn’t include other illnesses or conditions that might normally result in a doctor visit here. Most policies also will not cover medications or a follow-up visit.
Each year, travelers come home with large medical bills that won’t be covered by their insurer. In one recent example, a 36-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif., broke his neck and sustained other injuries on a zip-line in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. They did not realize their U.S. medical insurance would not cover them and returned with more than $50,000 in hospital bills paid by credit card before leaving Mexico. He was airlifted to a hospital in California to receive further treatment.
Even if his medical insurance had covered the Bakersfield man’s hospital costs in Mexico, very few routine insurance policies will pay for medical evacuation back to the United States like he and the Ebola patients received. Medical evacuation costs from $10,000 or considerably more, depending on the medical condition and location.
Supplemental Insurance Policies
Supplemental medical coverage policies help avoid potential hassles in foreign countries, even for people who have emergency coverage from their regular insurer. Most of those policies eliminate the need to pay foreign medical bills upfront, except any deductible or copayments, and file for reimbursement later. Policy costs vary based on health, including pre-existing conditions and age, the trip’s destination and duration and planned activities, such as mountain climbing or zip-lining.
It is better for travelers abroad to be safe than sorry about medical care received whether for Ebola, MERS, a heart attack or an accident. The U.S. State Department publishes a list of companies that sell travel medical care insurance on their Web site. Tour and cruise operators will typically make recommendations as well.
By Dyanne Weiss