Travel Medical Insurance

Jul 1, 2009
2009 / July 2009

It’s a dilemma we’d rather not contemplate when planning a trip: What if a medical crisis strikes while I’m traveling? What if I’m too ill to travel home? Does my medical insurance cover me in another country?

Every traveler needs to face a few realities before leaving home. Obtaining medical treatment abroad can be expensive, and U.S. medical insurance generally is not accepted outside the United States. Medicare and Medicaid programs also do not cover medical costs outside the country. And, if you are too ill to travel, medical evacuation back to the United States can cost from $20,000–100,000, depending on location, travel distance and severity of the illness.

The World Health Organization advises travelers to carry travelers’ medical insurance for destinations where health risks are significant and medical care is expensive or not readily available. Whatever your destination, however, you should consider purchasing a short-term travel medical insurance policy, especially if your own medical insurance does not cover you abroad.

Specialized healthcare for travelers is a rapidly growing business. Many private companies now cover hospitalization and medical care in case of illness or injury, repatriation for health reasons, medical evacuation via air ambulance and expenses incurred due to illness-related changes in itinerary. Some also guarantee access to English-speaking medical professionals.

Rates for policies naturally vary depending on the specific terms and length of travel. Since these are short-term policies, however, they are relatively inexpensive and can provide great peace of mind. Packages are designed to cover individuals, families, groups, senior citizens and students studying or traveling abroad, and for lengths of stay as short as a few days. Annual policies may offer the best value for frequent travelers or Americans living abroad for extended periods.

Keep in mind that while the U.S. Embassy can assist travelers in finding medical care, travelers are still responsible for the expense. Before you travel, check with your U.S. medical insurance provider to see if you are covered abroad and the details of that coverage. If traveling on business, find out if your company provides employees with international travel medical insurance.

Following are several companies that offer travel medical insurance; for a more comprehensive list visit the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website (http://travel.state.gov/travel/). As with the purchase of any insurance policy, do your research: Read the details, speak to a representative, ask questions and determine the amount and type of coverage that will suit your needs.

MedjetAssist (http://www.medjetassist.com) offers more of a membership program than a health insurance plan. Several programs are available, from annual domestic or international memberships for individuals and families to expatriate memberships for U.S. citizens living abroad. For an additional annual fee, the Plus Program provides services such as online medical and document storage, free international cell phone rental, personal travel advisors, discounted satellite phone rental, cash advance for medical emergencies and specialty transport services. Unlike many evacuation services, MedjetAssist lets travelers choose the hospital they want to be transported to for treatment.

MEDEX (http://www.medexassist.com) offers travel medical insurance for business and leisure travelers, government contractors, academic travelers and non-profit organizations. Their basic plan provides short-term medical insurance, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation and worldwide 24-hour medical assistance. Travelers pay a daily rate determined by age plus a co-pay per illness or injury. The plan covers trips of seven to 90 days; if you average more than five trips per year, a different rate applies. Other programs offer coverage based on age, length of travel, selected medical benefits and selected deductibles. MEDEX SafeTrip provides emergency evacuation, repatriation, and worldwide travel assistance for those traveling 100 or more miles from home. All programs include multilingual experts available 24/7 to help with medical, travel, legal, security and other travel-related emergencies.

TravelersMed (http://www.travelersmed.com) provides a variety of short-term international policies for individuals or families. Plans vary from five days to three years, with coverage from $50,000 to $2 million and a choice of deductibles. Short-term policies for travelers age 70 and older may have maximum benefit limitations. Those under age 50 whose adventures will include hazardous or extreme sports — everything from scuba diving to whitewater rafting to rock climbing — can enroll in the Patriot Extreme policy (many medical plans do not cover extreme sports).

Travel Guard (http://www.travelguard.com) offers travel medical insurance for international and domestic travel, including worldwide medical evacuation that will transport you home or to the hospital of your choice, plus cover any qualified medical expenses you may incur. The plans are available on a per-trip or annual basis and include 24/7 assistance. You can receive a quote for an annual membership or single trip by entering your travel information at their website.

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