August 30, 2015

Do you Really Need to Spend Money on International Medical Insurance?

Congratulations!  You’ve just booked your next vacation getaway!  Whether it’s Budapest, Buenos Aires or Bangkok – international travel can be expensive.  When you consider the cost of – plane tickets, hotels, meals and sightseeing, to name a few – do you really need to spend an extra $100-$400 on international medical insurance? My answer is always a resounding YES!  Here’s why…

In the international medical travel industry, I get this question a lot.  The common refrain is, “I already have health insurance through my employer or on my own, so why would I need it?”    What you may not realize is that while your US health insurance policy is great for covering you in the US, what would you do if you needed to see a doctor in Davos?  Unless you have an international health insurance policy, he will tell you he accepts cash or credit – there is no direct billing to your Stateside insurance company like you have at home.  Although many US health plans will cover emergency care outside the US, you would still be required to pay for your care at the time of service and then have to file a claim with your insurance carrier when you get home.  

What if you have a medical question or concern in Colombia?  The toll-free number on the back of your US health plan ID card isn’t going to work.  Now what?    Most international medical insurance plans include access to a global toll-free number and accept international collect calls.  Their customer service representatives are also trained to help you find local providers – often who are Western-trained and English-speaking.  In addition, these plans can often make payment directly to the provider on your behalf so you won’t have to run to the ATM or max out your credit card.

However, the single most important feature of an international medical plan is emergency medical evacuation.  If you have a medical emergency in Ethiopia, you may find that the local hospital isn’t able to provide adequate care. Without the backing of an international medical carrier, would you know where to go?  And, what if you needed to be moved to a medical facility in another country?  The medical transport alone could run you tens of thousands of dollars.

By having an international policy that includes emergency medical evacuation, you can rest easy that you will have a clinical care team assigned to you to identify an appropriate place for care, they will coordinate medical transport if needed, and will monitor your medical condition until you have finished treatment.  Keep in mind that standard procedures for medical evacuation are to take you to the nearest appropriate place for care, however, some enhanced policies may allow you to choose your destination (assuming you are stable enough for travel), in the event you wanted to be transported to the US (or an alternate location) for care

When you consider the significant potential expense and administrative challenges of a medical emergency overseas, I would encourage you to confirm with your current medical insurance carrier what your coverage is when you are traveling outside the US.  If you identify any of these limitations, that extra $100-$400 for an international travel policy could be money very well spent.  

Now, go enjoy biking in Beijing or sightseeing in Switzerland!  We’ll see you when you return


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