Health Insurance and Travel: What You Need to Know
Health Insurance: Will You be Covered When You Travel?
By Rachel Siden
You remembered to put a hold on your mail, take out all the trash, and pack a toothbrush. All ready? Not quite. Did you call your health care provider yet?
No typical traveler has “call health care provider” written at the top of their vacation prep to-do list, but it is a step that shouldn’t be neglected. Accidents can happen any time and in any place, and if that time and place happens to be your vacation to Europe, you don’t want to be wondering if your insurance will cover you while you are in the emergency room.
Author Terry Ward explains how essential it is to know what travel benefits you have before you leave for your trip, because the coverage you will have varies depending on your provider and plan.
For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield offers the BlueCard Worldwide program. You will have benefits while traveling, but your benefits will vary depending on whether the hospital you visit is a BlueCard hospital. UnitedHealthcare offers international medical insurance, but this is additional coverage that is not part of standard healthcare. And with Humana, travel benefits vary so greatly with each individual plan, the only way to know what coverage you have is to contact the provider to ask.
Despite all this variability, Ward lists some certainties that exist across the board-- such as guaranteed coverage for out-of-state emergencies as long as you are with a major health care provider that covers emergencies in your home state. But knowing you are covered for an emergency is not enough, because you could visit a hospital for a severe headache only to find that your provider will not count it as an emergency!
Other problems that the unprepared traveler may face include: discovering that you are only covered for an urgent care visit if it is part of your provider’s network, finding out that pre-authorization was needed to cover situations that require hospitalization, and learning that you are required to pay the medical bills yourself up-front and later reimbursed by your provider.
So what can you do to avoid a healthcare calamity on your next vacation? Ward offers us six tips that can prepare us for the worst and save us from unnecessary chaos on top of an injury:
1. Always have your insurance card on you while traveling. It gives information to the hospital about who you are and the kind of coverage you have and can make the billing and reimbursement process smoother.
2. Before you travel, call your insurance provider. Make sure you understand what is covered out of state or internationally and if pre-authorization is needed to cover costs in situations that require hospitalization.
3. Be sure to specifically ask if emergency care is covered at urgent care centers, as well as at hospital emergency rooms. In some cases, you’re only covered at urgent care centers if they are in your insurance provider’s network. Tell your health care provider where you are traveling and request a list of in-network urgent care centers and doctors.
4. If you require ongoing care for a chronic condition, call your health care provider before traveling away from home and ask for a list of in-network doctors at your destination.
5. Understand your health care provider’s definition of emergency, and ask for the name of the person you spoke to -- in case you have to reference the call at a later date.
6. Finally, if you’re confident that you’ll have all the coverage you need when you travel, consider atravel insurance plan that covers medical expenses, as well as travel delays and lost luggage. Find travel insurance options from World Nomads insurance here.
Rachel Siden is a former editorial assistant for GoNomad.com. She is a graduate of UMass Amherst with a B.A. in Philosophy and is a freelance travel writer from central Massachusetts.