Do You Need Travel Insurance To Travel Abroad?

shutterstock_71470042Hmmm, perhaps a better question is, Do you need supplemental medical insurance to travel abroad?  Even qualified in this manner, the question is still complicated.

Let’s start with what kind of medical insurance do you have in your home country?  If the answer is none, perhaps you should still consider medical insurance abroad.  Perhaps you believe at home you will be able to rely on the emergency room, or clinics or negotiating with a doctor.  But do you want to make the same assumptions in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language?  The answer may still be that you don’t need/want the insurance, but you should at least do enough investigation on the internet to know you have a fighting chance if something happens to you.  This is more likely to be true in developed, Western countries, and much less likely in developing countries.

If you do have medical insurance at home does it cover you abroad?  Probably the easiest thing to do is to call your medical insurance company and ask them directly.  But even if they say yes, that does not necessarily mean you are covered.  Did they say something like, “reasonable and customary”?  Hmmm, if you have to go to a hospital in the Azores, will your insurance company back in the US find those charges reasonable and customary.

As it turns out, in the Azores (and many, but certainly not all, countries in Western Europe) the cost of medical care charged to foreigners is quite reasonably priced.  And in most of Western Europe it is pretty easy to find an English speaking doctor. But will your luck be the same in Russia? Or Kenya? Or Thailand?  In many 2nd and 3rd world countries there are multiple levels of care.  The care administered to those with the least amount of money is often free, or at a small cost.  But if you want “Western standards of care”, then you will go to a private clinic, and be charged what the market will bear.  Sometime/many times this still looks like a bargain rate compared to US prices, but sometimes not.

What if you are on Medicare?  The short answer is NO, you are not covered under regular Medicare, with some very specialized exceptions (certain care in Canada and on cruises.)  Some supplemental insurance, such as Medigap plans, provide coverage for foreign travel. Medigap plans C through G and M and N cover 80 percent of the cost of emergency care abroad during the first two months of a trip with a $250 deductible and up to $50,000 in a lifetime.  Some Medicare private health plans also cover emergency care when you travel outside the United States.  Check with your plan

And how do you find out where to go for the level of care you need (e.g., you don’t want to be treated for a stroke in Turkmenistan) can you be medi-vac’d back to your home country?

American Express Platinum offers a concierge service to help get you to a doctor who speaks English and might provide international standards of care.  And if required will medi-vac you back to your home country.

Platinum Travel Assistance

Should you have a medical emergency while traveling, Platinum Assistance can provide you with medical assistance in consultation with local attending physicians. Medical visits to your hotel can also be arranged, depending on the circumstances and the resources available in each country. This comprehensive assistance program includes: 

• Emergency medical evacuation up to USD $100,000 
• Emergency medical services up to USD $20,000 
• Emergency dental treatment up to USD $1,000 
• Prescription expenses up to USD $1,000 
• Hospitalization arrangements, coordination of arrangements for surgery when necessary, medical monitoring, Intensive Therapy or Coronary Care arrangements, emergency message relay.

SOS offers a similar service, as well as actual medical insurance when you travel abroad.   The key benefit of membership is access. With membership, you gain a 24/7 connection to International SOS’ worldwide infrastructure and resources—logistics coordinators, doctors, security professionals and network providers like hospitals, physicians, ambulances and aviation resources.

About $900 for a 63 year old male for multiple trips over a year.  Much less for a single 3 week trip ($166).  These prices include full medical insurance traveling abroad as well as medi-vac.