Traveling outside the U.S.? Make sure you have health coverage

June 24, 2014 in Travel Health  •  By Miles Varn
Travelers to foreign countries need to make sure they have medical coverage.

When planning your vacation, you probably focus on your daily itineraries: activities, places to eat, where to shop and so on. However, it is also important to be prepared for medical emergencies. One fundamental question to ask is whether your insurance policy covers care outside the U.S.

While it is unpleasant to think about, you need to know how you can pay for medical services for yourself or your family in case of an accident or illness, whether that’s a broken bone or heart attack. Without coverage, the expenses could be considerable.

Consult your insurance company

If you have medical insurance through either your employer or a plan that you pay for yourself, keep in mind that not all policies have the same benefits. While you are still in the planning stages of your trip, it is a good idea to call your insurance company and go through the details of your specific policy.

Tell the insurance representative about where you are going and how long you plan to be there. Be prepared to ask the following questions:

  • Does the policy cover emergency services in other countries, including transport back to the U.S.?
  • Are high-risk activities – scuba diving, mountain climbing, off-roading or anything else specific to your trip – covered by the policy?
  • How are pre-existing conditions regarded?
  • Are pre-authorizations or second opinions required before emergency treatment can begin?
  • Will medical payments be made abroad?
  • Will the company make direct payments to foreign hospitals and doctors?
  • Does the insurance company have a physician-backed support center that operates 24 hours a day?

If you or your loved ones have Medicare, it is important to be clear about the specific Medicare plan in the given situation.

  • Original Medicare Part A will pay for 80 percent of inpatient hospital stays, ambulance services or doctor consultations if an emergency occurs while traveling between Alaska and the continental U.S., and a Canadian hospital is more easily reached.
  • Medicare Part B will cover medically necessary treatments that are provided on a cruise ship that is in territorial waters within six hours of American soil. The Part B deductible still applies.
  • Medicare drug plans do not cover medications bought outside the U.S.

One very important fact to keep in mind – even if your health insurance covers some emergency care abroad, in most countries you are likely to have to pay cash up-front or provide some other guarantee of payment before you can receive care.

For any care you receive outside the U.S., you will have to file your own health insurance claims and wait for your insurer to reimburse you. Before you travel, check with your insurance company to find out what types of paperwork and documentation you need if you do receive care overseas. Without the proper bills and other supporting materials, you may not be able to get reimbursed.

Consider travel medical insurance

If your current health plan does not cover medical services while you are in a foreign country, consider travel medical insurance to cover the cost of medical care that you need abroad.

We frequently advise our members to prepare for travel abroad by speaking with their health advisor and reviewing our tips for safer travel.