Purchasing travel medical insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense. However, there are definite valid reasons for buying travel medical insurance and the coverage can be a lifesaver in emergency medical situations.
What Does Travel Medical Insurance Cover?
Travel medical insurance typically covers medical expenses that may occur during your trip. The major costs that it will cover include:
- Emergency medical services, diagnostics and medications, including emergency dental services.
- Evacuations due to an emergency medical situation, such as an ambulance or airlift.
- Assistance for you 24 hours a day during your trip to handle medical concerns such as finding a doctor or hospital.
- An Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) policy covering you and your family.
Isn't Medical Insurance Enough?
While you may have a solid medical insurance plan of your own, often these plans will not cover the types of expenses that can occur when traveling. Some of the better insurance plans will cover emergency expenses regardless of where you are, but will not cover evacuation expenses or emergency dental services. According to the Centers for Disease Control, emergency medical evacuation in a foreign country can cost $100,000 or more. Regular insurance plans will also not cover the costs to return your remains to the United States in the unfortunate event that you die during your medical emergency.
Will Medicare Cover You Abroad?
If your medical coverage comes from Medicare, you will not be covered for any medical costs that are incurred outside of the country. It also will not cover medical expenses incurred on a cruise ship once you are more than six hours away from the United States at sea.
Travel Medical Insurance Restrictions
Certain situations may not be covered by travel medical insurance depending on your individual policy. In general, if you entered a country with a known risk, such as an epidemic, many policies will not cover you if you become ill due to that disease. For example, if a country has a travel health notice issued against it by the Centers for Disease Control and you travel to that country regardless, most policies would not cover you if you contracted the disease in question. On the other hand, if the risk was not foreseeable, you may be covered. Likewise if you were injured during a natural catastrophe, such as a hurricane or tsunami, you should be covered although some policies may explicitly exclude coverage for "known" events. In other words, if you knowingly travel to a location where a hurricane has been forecasted, you should double-check your policy as it may prevent coverage where you are deliberately taking a risk.
How Travel Medical Insurance Claims Work
If you purchase travel medical insurance and end up having to use it during a trip, you will need to follow the instructions for your individual policy. For most companies this means submitting copies of medical receipts and in the case of the AD&D policy, a death certificate if a death was involved. Make sure you review the policy beforehand so you know what you will need to collect in case of an emergency, as it may be harder to get receipts from a foreign doctor or hospital after you've left the country. Tyson Wharton, a travel agent who owns Sioux Empire Travel, says that submitting claims and receipts can be done for you by your agent if you booked your trip through one.
Who Should Get Travel Medical Insurance?
Tyson recommends that, "Everybody should get travel insurance as no one is immune to a medical emergency." There are a few scenarios where getting travel medical insurance prior to your trip is definitely a wise idea.
- Travelers who will be abroad for a long time, such as a week or more on a business or missionary trip, should consider travel medical insurance. The longer you are in another country, the more chances there are for you to get sick or injured.
- Adventure travelers who will be engaging in high-risk activities like climbing or biking, or who will be traversing remote areas where evacuation will be necessary in the event of illness or injury.
- People who travel to do missionary or volunteer work in impoverished regions should strongly consider travel medical insurance. They will be more likely to be in contact with people with poor medical health, and the risk of contracting a disease will be higher.
- Parents of students who are traveling as part of their school program should purchase medical insurance for their children. A younger person may have a harder time dealing with finding a doctor or hospital when they're in a strange country and medical insurance support would be invaluable.
- People with known medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes as well as senior citizens should take advantage of a travel medical insurance plan. Tyson gives the example of a client who attended a wedding in a foreign country with diabetes. She had a diabetic attack and was rushed to the hospital where she was told she could not get care without cash upfront. "Luckily she was able to recover with the help of a guest who was a nurse but if she had not been with that guest, she could have died."
- Ultimately, Tyson advises anyone to consider getting travel medical insurance as well as trip cancellation insurance. "You never know what's going to happen on vacation. People go on vacations and they're not used to the heat, they're not used to the food, and to the drinking, and that whole mixture can cause a really bad heart attack." Likewise, you can have young, healthy people, "run around the pool and break their leg, so it's anybody," that can be affected by a medical crisis on a trip.
How to Find a Travel Medical Insurance Policy
Tyson notes that if you book through a travel agent, they can help you with picking the best policy for you. You can also buy a policy on your own through the companies directly. "Allianz and Trip Mate are the big two," that sell medical insurance policies. There are also several organizations that list the top providers for travel medical insurance on their websites. You can visit these websites to find travel medical insurance providers:
- The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers has information on how to understand and choose a travel medical policy.
- The U.S. Travel Insurance Association has information on policies and a searchable provider directory.
- The American Association of Retired Persons offers members discounts on travel medical insurance.
Get Added Protection With Travel Medical Insurance
While not every traveler may find buying travel medical insurance to be useful, there are clear scenarios where it's the prudent choice. If your time or activities in a foreign country have the potential for you to become sick or injured or if you have known serious medical conditions, travel medical insurance can keep you safe and cover unexpected expenses that can be quite high depending on the situation.