Does My Health Insurance Cover International Travel?

Mary Kate Morrow
February 14, 2020

You work hard to play hard. The last thing you want to worry about on your vacation is getting stuck with a costly and unexpected bill for medical expenses. If you’re visiting a state in which your provider does not operate, an emergency room visit will probably be covered. However, chances are that your health insurance company does not cover you while you are travelling internationally.

Health Insurance Travel Checklist

1. Check to see if your health insurance will cover you while you’re travelling. If not, see if your insurer provides short-term travel health insurance.

2. Shop travel health insurance options here to find one that is right for you and make sure to be clear on what a policy does and does not cover.

3. Analyze the policy you’re considering buying very carefully over the “lookover” period to fully comprehend the terms and conditions of your coverage. Do not hesitate to contact your insurance provider with specific inquiries and concerns.

4. If you do have a medical issue while travelling, keep all receipts and meticulously document all costs related to the medical problem to ensure prompt claims processing.

When Do I Need Travel Health Insurance Coverage?

You have a medical emergency while traveling abroad or on an international cruise.

You need access to a 24/7 hotline where the call center representatives speak English and can help you obtain medical services, organize medical transportation and/or arrange for treatment.

Your luggage is stolen, lost, or delayed with your prescription medication inside.

You need medical evacuation coverage to be evacuated and repatriated for a medical event.

You require medical evacuation coverage because you die abroad and need your body to be transported back home for burial.

The majority of standard health insurance plans provide partial or no coverage while travelling in another country or while on a cruise in international waters.

According to a recent AAA Travel phone survey, only roughly 38% of Americans say they would likely buy travel insurance for future international trips, even despite all the restrictions on their primary coverage.

Although travel health insurance can be overwhelming the worst thing you can do is not purchase a health insurance policy at all. Look into the best option for coverage for your vacation.

By purchasing travel insurance you can join the ranks of other smart travelers whose top reasons for purchasing travel insurance include peace of mind, protection against the unexpected, and protection of a much-deserved vacation. The story of Mrs. Stinson below is a cautionary tale of what can result from not purchasing travel health insurance.

A Heart Attack in Paradise

While on vacation in Cancun, a Lafayette grandmother had a heart attack and needed emergency surgery to clear several artery blockages, which cost the family $30,000 out-of-pocket. After the first surgery, doctors refused to perform a necessary follow-up surgery without another $30,000 payment upfront.

After these initial costs, the hospital refused to release Mrs. Stinson until receiving an additional $20,000 payment for services rendered. This situation, though terrifying, is not at all uncommon. Many foreign countries will not discharge you until you pay your bill in full, a policy referred to as the “pay or stay” proposition.

With the help of a GoFundMe page and local politicians, there was an agreement made to release Mrs. Stinson. However, even after all of these expenses, there remained a $107,000 balance for her medical treatment.

Experts agree that if she’d purchased a good travel health insurance plan, Mrs. Stinson could have avoided over $150,000 in medical fees and the incredible stress her family experienced scrambling to find payment methods.

To get short-term health insurance quotes, fill out a form here to speak with an agent.

When Should I Purchase Health Insurance Coverage for My Trip?

You should always purchase health insurance for your trip if your regular insurance policy does not cover medical expenses incurred whilst travelling. The need to purchase travel-specific health insurance is almost guaranteed if your trip is an international one.

Purchase the plan as soon as possible, ideally within days of making your initial trip deposit. Travel insurance is a temporary insurance product so there will likely be no underwriting period or medical examination necessary to receive coverage. You can simply get a travel health insurance quote online, buy a policy, and print a confirmation once payment is received!

What Should My Travel Insurance Cover?

Experts agree that your travel insurance should cover both emergency medical costs and emergency medical transportation when travelling. The general recommendation is to purchase coverage that provides at least $50,000 for emergency medical expenses and $250,000 in case of an emergency medical evacuation. These amounts may need to be adjusted if you are travelling to a higher-risk destination or if you plan to engage in high-risk activities while travelling.

Repatriation costs could exceed $1,000,000 depending on the situation and severity of a medical event. It is important to check if your travel insurance plan includes airlifts or medically-equipped international flights back home if the need arises. Your policy needs to cover both the locations and the span of activities you plan to engage in during your travels.

What Is Domestic Evacuation

This is a repatriation benefit under emergency evacuation coverage. Basically, it gives you the option of getting sent back to your home country if you need medical treatment rather than being evacuated to the closest location. If you do not want treatment in a foreign country, make sure you have this coverage.

What if I Travel Internationally for Business?

If you are traveling on business, you should consult with your company’s insurance policy to see if they offer worldwide health benefits. Know exactly what your company will and won’t cover in a medical emergency.

Additionally, it is important to ascertain whether or not your company offers emergency medical evacuation and repatriation coverage. Make sure your company has a direct payment arrangement in place with international providers, and know if there will be any out-of-pocket expenses.

How do Pre-existing Conditions Affect Travel Health Insurance?Before 2014, pre-existing conditions were a headache for those looking to get health insurance coverage but because of the Affordable Care Act you cannot be denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition.

Travel insurance plans have an automatic exclusion of pre-existing medical conditions, which means they do not cover anything related to your pre-existing medical condition. The “lookback” period ranges from 60 to 180 days, during which any medical condition you were diagnosed with or received treatment for may be excluded from coverage. However, some plans offer a waiver that removes the pre-existing condition exclusion.

To receive pre-existing condition coverage, you need this waiver, and your related medical issues will only be covered if the insurance company finds that you were medically stable for a specified duration of time before the claim period. Below is a story that details a situation in which pre-existing medical coverage saved a gentleman almost $250,000

Diabetic Complications that Could Have Cost Almost a Quarter Million Dollars!

A gentleman in his seventies was on an Antarctic cruise when his diabetes flared up and resulted in seizures and an inability to walk or stand. After being airlifted to two separate hospitals for treatment, one in Antarctica and one in Australia, the gentleman was finally cleared to fly home to finish his recovery.

The cost of these diabetic complications would have landed the gentleman with a bill exceeding $215,000. However, because the gentleman had the foresight to purchase a plan with pre-existing coverage, his $72 premium payment ended up saving him almost a quarter million dollars.

What About Injuries in Countries with “Universal Health Care?”

Many people assume that countries with universal health care would cover medical expenses incurred on their soil, when in actuality these countries are not necessarily a safe haven for injured travelers. You may be able to get assistance with minor needs in some countries with universal health care, but their healthcare system is under no obligation to provide non-citizens free services.

Additionally, in the event of a major or ongoing medical event, you won’t be covered if you need to be evacuated and returned home for treatment without travel health insurance.

Can I Change or Cancel My Coverage?

Travel insurance companies offer a 100% reimbursement of your policy purchase within the “Free Look” or “lookover” period, which is usually 10-14 days long. This lookover period gives you time to review the policy in detail and the option to return it for any reason, so long as it is within the time frame you agreed upon when you purchased the travel insurance policy.

Experts agree that this “lookover” period is essential for consumers to ensure that they are purchasing the health insurance plan that is the most comprehensive and reasonable for their circumstances before they travel and potentially need the coverage.

What do I Need to Document for Claim Reimbursement?

When you have an emergency situation on vacation, the last thing you’re thinking about is the cost of this misadventure, let alone a detailed and itemized receipt of services rendered. A lack of proper documentation is the number one travel insurance mistake, so it is your responsibility as a consumer to proactively obtain and provide detailed reports and information to your travel insurance company in order to ensure prompt and appropriate reimbursement.

Transportation, hotels and food cost incurred as a result of medical expenses are helpful to note if you wish to submit them as a part of your claim. If you cannot get a formal copy of an invoice or treatment explanation, it is suggested that you use your smartphone to document as much paperwork as possible. Below is a real-world example of a woman’s travel insurance claim experience that stresses the importance of proper documentation.

Ms. Brooks’s Documentation Nightmare

While Molly Brooks was on vacation, she severely injured her arm and needed emergency surgery. Upon arriving at the hospital and agreeing to the procedure, she was unsatisfied with their unsanitary conditions and decided to postpone her treatment until she returned home. To her surprise, she was not allowed to leave the hospital until she paid the bill in full.

After speaking with her credit card company, Ms. Brooks was able to process the charge successfully, and the hospital and police officers who had physically detained her allowed her to leave. Understandably, Ms. Brooks did not obtain her medical file in her haste to leave and board a flight home to receive medical care.

A year later, Ms. Brooks’s claim was still not reimbursed. Her only evidence of having been at the hospital was a non-itemized $6,000 credit card receipt. Ms. Brooks was informed that she would need to obtain her file from the hospital staff. Her requests for the information from the hospital were ignored, and even an in-person visit from her friend in Mexico on her behalf proved to be a fruitless effort.

There is a lesson for all travelers to learn here: Remember to document your health expenses to ensure proper reimbursement for your travel insurance claim. Luckily, Ms. Brooks’s story has a happy ending; by involving an advocate she was able to get her claim paid off as a unique circumstance Her advocate stresses that Ms. Brooks did the right thing in purchasing the travel insurance, without which she would have been stuck with a $6,000 bill to pay out-of-pocket and no hope for reimbursement!

What is the Process for Claim Reimbursement?

Experts suggest that you receive pre-authorization for any emergency benefits, including repatriation and minor surgeries. Once you’ve received treatment, you should submit your claim for reimbursement as soon as possible. The deadline for submission is usually within 90 days of receiving treatment. Simply download and complete the appropriate travel insurance claim forms and any additional requested supplemental documentation.

You will typically receive a decision regarding reimbursement of your claim within 10 to 14 business days. During this time period, an adjuster needs to verify that you are not covered by other insurance, and perform other due diligence tasks before cutting you a check. Companies may fast-track claims of under $100, but for more costly cases they need to investigate much more thoroughly before reimbursement.

What if I Don’t Agree with the Delay or Denial of My Claim?

The insurance industry is highly regulated, and each state possesses an insurance board. If you are unsatisfied with the service provided by your travel insurance company, you can report them to the insurance board here. Your state’s insurance board will provide the final judgment on whether or not your claim was mistakenly delayed or denied.

Get a Free Health Insurance Quote Online Now.

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