Tis the Season to Consider Travel Coverage
I know some of you saw the article “What If You Get Sick While Traveling Abroad” in the Wall Street Journal that I was recently quoted in but if not, and you’re planning a trip, we want to get important information to you.
First, we’re addressing coverage for medical services and medical evacuation here – not trip cancellation or loss of luggage, etc. Medical evacuation is usually defined as evacuation to the nearest hospital capable of handling your illness or injury.
What Do I Need to Know?
You might already have some coverage for traveling abroad if you are fortunate enough to have coverage through a large employer. Most of the time you can determine what the benefit is through your on-line account. Calling the 800 customer service number on your card and asking about your benefit is always possible too but it’s preferable to read the actual benefit language. Some plans are quite specific about types of emergencies they will cover. Even if you do have coverage for medical services, it is less common to have any coverage for medical evacuation outside the United States.
And if you do have medical coverage for services outside the United States, it is likely to be considered out-of-network so might have a separate deductible and higher coinsurance. I have such coverage, for example, but have a $5000 out-of-network deductible. In order to avoid potentially paying that $5,000 deductible, I was happy to pay $52 for $100,000 in travel coverage for my upcoming trip. And, remember, a provider of service abroad will often want payment at the time of service. Although some companies providing travel insurance will assume responsibility for direct payment to the provider, if you have coverage through an employer, it is more likely that you will have to pay the provider out of pocket and then submit for reimbursement.
Individual and Small Group (2-50) Coverage
Coverage while outside of the United States is definitely not an “Essential Health Benefit” as defined under the Affordable Care Act. If you work for a small employer it is possible but unlikely that you have coverage while outside the United States so verify that information and plan accordingly.
Original Medicare rarely covers emergencies outside the United States (exception: you become urgently ill near the Canadian or Mexican borders or on your way to Alaska). Some Medicare supplements (C, D, F, G, M and N) and some Medicare Advantage Plans do have foreign travel emergency coverage. The benefit in a Medicare supplement is a $50,000 lifetime benefit paid at 80% after a $250 deductible. That is important protection but the entire benefit could be consumed by one significant hospitalization depending on where you are in the world. If you have an Advantage Plan or are considering switching to one during the annual open enrollment period, you should verify whether there is a foreign travel emergency benefit and what the benefit will cover.
Some people have travel coverage through a credit card. As discussed above, it’s important to understand how the benefit is defined, does the protection include medical evacuation and what is the limit on the coverage.
Dispelling the Myth about the UK and Europe
Many people believe that if you are traveling in a country which provides socialized medicine or universal coverage to its citizens, you will not be billed. This is simply not true. It is possible that a provider may not bother with billing a visit if they don’t collect at the time of service. However, hospitals and other providers outside the United States are looking to be compensated for providing expensive care or services.
Buying Travel Coverage
Travel coverage is age rated and typically affordable. However, if you’re able to travel in your eighties and nineties, the age rating will be more of a challenge. A good place to start to shop for coverage is on insuremytrip.com. You will want to pay attention to the small print regarding pre-existing conditions, the definition of medical evacuation, whether the carrier will assume responsibility for paying the provider, what type of sporting or recreational activities may be excluded from coverage and that the benefit limit is not too low. There are also companies that only sell medical evacuation services. If you consider buying medical evacuation coverage please make sure you also have coverage for medical services because you can’t count on a company to transport you back to the United States if you are not medically stable.
Our Subscription Clients
We handle obtaining travel coverage for our subscription clients at their request. Just a reminder to please let us know of your plans when you know them.
The ability to travel is one of the greatest gifts modern life has to offer. Unfortunately, sudden illness and/or accidents can occur at any time so please take the steps to make sure you are adequately covered when traveling outside the United States.