Most people enjoy taking car trips to nearby getaways or flying to see entirely new vistas. And most vacations go smoothly, with only minor inconveniences. Because they don’t expect anything bad to happen on their vacations, most people travel without thinking about their health insurance.
But imagine becoming ill while visiting a foreign country. What if a family member breaks a leg while skiing? Or a fishing trip ends in a boating accident? It’s important to know whether existing health insurance would cover a medical emergency far from home.
Existing Health Insurance May Be Enough
Those who already have health insurance should review the contract, call the insurance agent who sold the policy, or contact the insurer’s customer service department to find out if benefits apply while traveling. Some major insurance carriers do provide access to medical care for their customers who are away from home, but restrictions and exclusions may apply. All travelers should carry copies of their insurance policy and member ID card with them, and find out if they should bring additional forms of identification. Also be sure to bring any special contact information for the insurance company’s out-of-town benefits program.
Get details on what services are covered while out of the home area, including hospital care, emergency room services, doctor’s office visits and prescription drugs. Something as simple as a prescription for an antibiotic could cost hundreds of dollars without valid insurance. In addition, many standard insurance policies do not cover the cost of transporting a person home after a medical emergency.
How to Choose a Travel Health Insurance Policy
Those who are not currently insured or who do not have travel benefits should consider a travel health policy. There are four general policy types, ranging from basic to deluxe international policies. For general tips on buying health insurance, read Choosing the Right Health Insurance Policy here on Suite101.com. For more details on the four policy types, read How to Choose the Right Travel Health Insurance.
Basic Policy. A basic travel medical policy should protect a traveler (and family, if applicable) from the financial consequences of an illness or accident that strikes when they’re far from home. The policy should cover hospital and surgical costs, physician visits, medications and dental care, and should also include evacuation insurance.
All-inclusive Travel Insurance. The next level of coverage is a trip protection policy. These comprehensive plans provide the same type of hospitalization and office visit coverage of a basic policy, with the important additions of trip cancellation and interruption insurance, medical evacuation services, baggage protection and other benefits. Travelers may also choose add-ons like emergency cash advances, translation services, access to legal assistance, extra protection for airline accidents and acts of terrorism, and help in recovering lost tickets or passports.
Specialized Insurance for Students. Americans age 64 or younger who are studying or conducting academic research abroad — or international students traveling to the United States to study — may be interested in a health insurance policy designed especially for international students. These policies usually offer benefits comparable to a traditional major medical plan, as well as medical evacuation coverage, repatriation (sending home) of remains in the event of a death, translation assistance and specialized health and security information related to the country being visited.
International Travel Health Insurance for Long-term Visits. A fourth type of travel policy is a renewable international plan for individuals or families who will be staying in a foreign country for a year or more, such as for an extended job assignment.
Buying Travel Health Insurance Online
Purchasing a travel policy on the internet has advantages and disadvantages. Information and convenience are the biggest benefits of online shopping. Customer service is less strong.
Many internet travel sites also sell travel health insurance policies. But insurance is not their main focus, so they may offer fewer choices of benefits or rates. Travelers who already have a relationship with a travel agent may wish to ask if the agency also sells travel health policies. Many licensed travel agents offer these policies, and because travel is their specialty, they can advise on what type of policy and what level of benefits are right for each client.
Customer service is the heart of a travel agent’s business. An agent can be a valuable source of personal help in a crisis. He or she will likely have industry contacts and experience in dealing with people and organizations in distant places. If a client forgets to bring important documents or contact information on a trip, the travel agent will have that information available and should have a toll-free phone number that clients can call for help.
Those who don’t have an existing relationship with a travel agent may want to check with one of their professional trade associations, such as the American Society of Travel Agents (asta.org) or the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (icta.com). Another industry website at TravelSense.org offers visitors a way to search for an agent with specialized credentials.
Buying Travel Coverage Through a Credit Card
Some credit card companies offer health insurance as an addition to other services. For example, travelers who hold American Express business cards may be eligible for travel accident insurance and the company’s “global assist program” for international emergencies. A traveler who is planning to book a trip using a credit card should check with the company’s customer service to find out about these added services.
Hopefully, the very worst thing that happens on a vacation will be something as simple as a misplaced suitcase. And if so … a good travel insurance policy includes the baggage replacement benefit to cover it!