Insurance requirements for U.S. citizens traveling abroad can be confusing. We asked expert Ross Mason from International Student Insurance to weigh in.
InterExchange: What's the difference between regular health insurance and travel medical insurance? Isn't it expensive to have both?
Ross Mason: Typically, regular health insurance, the type that you would receive from your parents' insurance plan or your employer, is designed to be an all-encompassing plan that offers the highest level of coverage for all of your medical needs. Travel Medical Insurance, on the other hand, is designed to cover a shorter time abroad and will have more travel-related benefits such as medical evacuation, repatriation, lost luggage and trip interruption benefits along with medical benefits.
In some cases, your regular health insurance plan might provide some coverage abroad. If so, it is often limited to emergency medical expenses, which could leave you short if you need to seek regular medical care, and it would certainly not cover any travel-related expenses. So, the best option is to purchase a travel medical insurance plan. They are not as expensive as you may think. They start at around $0.80 per day, depending on the plan.
InterExchange: If a person is sick or injured abroad should they use their regular health insurance or the travel coverage? How does that work?
RM: In many cases, your regular health insurance will only provide limited emergency coverage, if anything at all. In these situations, it is advisable to purchase a comprehensive travel insurance plan that covers you for everything you need. The only thing to be mindful of is if you have two plans that offer the same coverage, this could cause an issue with the processing of any claims. Each insurance plan could look to the other to pay first.
InterExchange: What should a person look for in travel medical insurance? Are some plans better than others?
RM: Whenever I talk to someone about travel medical insurance, I always tell them to make sure the plan works for them on all levels. That might sound like common sense, but it is surprising how often people just purchase coverage because their airline offered it, or because it was cheap - without really looking into the plan. So a few key things that people should look for:
- What does the plan cover? Be sure to look at all the plan benefits, and not just the benefit table, but the actual wording to see if there are any surprises or hidden benefit limits.
- What does the plan not cover? While knowing what the plan covers is important, also make sure you know what your plan exclusions are. They do not cover everything and there will be some exclusions.
- What are the out of pocket expenses? If you need to seek medical care, how much will it cost you in deductibles, coinsurance, etc?
InterExchange: If a person gets sick or injured, how should that person get their insurance company to pay for it?
RM: In most cases, if it is an emergency situation or hospitalization, you would need to contact your insurance company as soon as possible so they can issue either a guarantee of payment and make arrangements to pay the hospital directly. For non-emergency claims, the quickest and easiest solution is to pay up-front for your treatment and then submit them to your insurance company to be reimbursed. Most insurance companies have an online claims submission process, and also accept claims via email. Make sure you keep all of your documents.
In some cases, your insurance company might have a provider network that will accept direct billing so you will not have to pay out of pocket. Check with your insurance provider about this.
InterExchange: Are there specific doctors I should visit with my travel medical insurance, or can I go anywhere?
RM: Some will have a provider network that you can utilize and others will not. The main advantage to having a network of providers is that they will bill direct to your insurance company. If your insurance plan does not have a provider network, then you should be able to seek treatment from any provider you wish. You would just pay for this at the time of treatment and submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
InterExchange is not an insurance broker or advisor. Please consult a professional insurance agent before making decisions regarding your travel medical insurance coverage.