Planning to travel overseas? Before packing your bags, it’s important to research just how portable your health insurance is—and make plans to supplement or replace it if it won’t cover the services you may need or want.
Some travelers may be able to get by with the coverage they already have. That’s because many private health insurance plans sponsored by employers and Medicare-supplement programs cover medical emergencies outside the U.S. But those who want coverage for medical evacuations or routine services, including doctor’s visits, generally have to buy additional insurance.
Know what you have
The first step in assessing your needs is to understand what your current health plan will and won’t cover abroad.
Original Medicare generally doesn’t provide any coverage outside of the U.S. Many private health plans do—but typically only for emergencies that arise when a person is temporarily out of the country. Because the definition of an emergency varies from policy to policy, United Healthcare, for example, says that under its Medicare Advantage plans—which replace Medicare with private insurance—a heart attack would qualify for coverage, but a “routine health-care need,” such as treatment for flu, generally wouldn’t. In addition, many private plans will cover only a portion of the cost of care outside of the U.S. Both Medicare Advantage and employer-sponsored plans often consider such treatment an out-of-network expense that requires participants to pay a higher share of the costs. Some Medigap policies, which supplement basic Medicare, cover 80% of the cost of emergency care abroad. (Medigap plans C, D, F, G, M and N provide this coverage if the claim begins during the first two months of a trip—after a $250 deductible and up to a lifetime maximum of $50,000.)
Regardless of your coverage, expect to pay any bills you incur abroad out-of-pocket and then seek reimbursement from your plan. Travelers who decide to buy international coverage have a few options. Those with employer-sponsored plans may be able to purchase supplemental international coverage from the plan.
Alternatively, you can buy travel insurance. Such policies typically add 5% to 17% to a trip’s cost, depending on factors such as your age. One variety, known as a comprehensive plan, reimburses policyholders for most costs associated with a wide range of travel-related problems, from illness, injury and medical evacuations to lost luggage, delayed flights and nonrefundable expenses if a trip falls through.
In contrast, travel medical plans provide mainly health and medical-evacuation coverage. (Some companies also sell stand-alone medical-evacuation plans.) Travel medical plans generally allow you to buy more coverage—typically, a maximum of $1 million for as long as a year. Comprehensive plans often only go as high as $500,000 and last from one to three months.
Both types of travel plans usually limit the amount of insurance older adults can buy—and premiums generally rise with age.
Because they cover only medical services, travel medical plans generally cost less. For a couple in their 50s taking a two-week, $5,000 vacation, a travel medical plan costs about $80, versus $200 for a comparable comprehensive plan with a $50,000 medical limit and $250,000 of medical-evacuation coverage.
But with a travel medical plan, you may not be able to get coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, often defined as ailments you had in the six months to three years before you purchased your policy. Under many comprehensive plans, it’s possible to secure such coverage if you buy a policy in a set time frame—often within 10 to 21 days of your initial trip payment.
Call our office at 940-382-4700 if you have questions about Travel Insurance or visit our Travel Insurance page.