What to Know About Health Insurance When Traveling

Car driving on road

“I don’t know what it is about vacation that turns us into idiots. Maybe It’s because we’re so desperate to experience something other than our own lives that we’ll jump out of an airplane or try to swim with sharks. And then, of course, we get hurt, and we’re stuck in a foreign hospital, wondering how we ended up there.”

-Jim Gaffigan

Potential medical bills might be the last thing on your mind as you’re packing for your first getaway after the longest winter in recent memory. However, I think the above quote perfectly illustrates why we should all consider learning a little more about our health insurance coverage before embarking on our next adventure (Fun fact, I’ve personally been to the ER three times on vacation).

Depending on your particular health insurance plan, your coverage may extend outside state lines, across the country, or even internationally. If you’re traveling within the United States, it’s important to know that where you seek care will affect how much you’ll pay when you get home. While many places may be considered out-of-network, it’s worth checking if there are any in-network facilities at your destination. To prepare for the unexpected, here are some tips:

  • Keep your insurance card in your wallet (or application on your phone).
  • Bring a list of any medications you’re on.
  • Make sure you have an ample supply of your medications.
  • Know what your insurance covers and check for in-network facilities.
  • Check if your carrier offers telehealth services.

In case of a medical emergency within the United States, your insurance should cover your trip to the ER regardless of your location. However, some insurers may deny claims that don’t match their definition of an “emergency”.  Additionally, some insurance plans may levy expensive co-pays on ER visits, which could be problematic if you have a high-deductible health plan. If possible, consider visiting a walk-in clinic or urgent care center, where wait times are typically shorter and the co-pay is similar to a doctor’s visit.

It’s also important to ask for all paperwork related to your case when you leave the hospital, including an itemized list of charges. Once you receive your bill, request an explanation of benefits (EOB) statement from your insurer, which will explain what they cover and what you’re responsible for.

If you’re traveling abroad, it’s crucial to check with your insurer before you leave to see what your coverage is. While some plans may offer coverage outside the United States, you’ll likely be billed out-of-network, which can be costly. It’s recommended that you research additional coverage options and visit travel.state.gov to obtain more information on insurance providers for international travel.

Medicare won’t cover you outside the U.S., but some Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans offer worldwide emergency care. Be sure to ask your insurer about exclusions for injuries related to terrorist attacks, acts of war, natural disasters, adventure activities such as scuba diving and mountain climbing, and exacerbations of pre-existing conditions.

You can also consider purchasing supplemental travel insurance to fill in gaps in your care. In case of a medical emergency abroad, be prepared to pay upfront for medical attention. You can work out the repayment details when you return to the U.S.

In conclusion, it’s good practice to be prepared for any unexpected emergencies that may arise. Whether you’re traveling within the U.S. or abroad, understanding your insurance coverage and knowing your options for in-network care can save you from a hefty bill. Remember to keep your insurance card and medication list on hand and consider telehealth services and urgent care centers as alternatives to costly emergency rooms. And always be sure to request itemized bills and explanation of benefits statements from your insurer to ensure you’re only paying for the care you received. By taking these steps, you can have peace of mind and fully enjoy the rest and relaxation you deserve on vacation.

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