Do I Need Travel Medical Insurance If I Have Health Insurance?
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
When you're planning an overseas trip, you should call your insurance company beforehand to ask if your plan includes overseas health insurance. The U.S. Department of State suggests some questions to ask your current health insurer, including:
Does my plan cover emergency expenses internationally, including emergency medical evacuation?
Do you require pre-authorizations or second opinions before emergency treatment can begin?
Do you guarantee medical payments internationally?
What other services do you provide internationally?
Do I need travel medical insurance if my insurer offers overseas health insurance?
While we can't speak to what your specific insurance policy will cover overseas, here are the general policies of a few major insurers.
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield does offer travel coverage, but draws a line between "urgent care" and "emergency care." Emergency care, Anthem says, is required by an injury or condition severe enough to result in "placing the Member's physical and or mental health in serious jeopardy; serious impairment to bodily functions; or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part."
"Urgent care," on the other hand, "may not be covered to the same extent as emergency care." For example, Anthem says, a fever not higher than 104° is considered urgent, not emergency care.
Aetna states that "emergency care is covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week – anywhere in the world." An emergency, Aetna says, "is a situation in which you could reasonably expect that the absence of immediate medical attention could result in serious jeopardy to your health, or if you are a pregnant woman, to the health of your unborn child." Cigna advises members to check their policies: "Outside of the U.S., coverage is limited to emergency services as defined in the policy."
In short, your definition of "emergency" may differ from your insurer's definition, and you may find yourself on the hook for medical expenses you thought were covered. That's why buying travel insurance is so important. It can help fill any gaps in domestic health insurance coverage while traveling internationally, as it is considered secondary coverage.
Do I need travel medical insurance if I have Medicare?
Yes. According to Medicare.gov, health care you get while traveling outside the U.S. isn't covered. There are a few rare exceptions. If, for instance, you're traveling through Canada to get to Alaska when a medical emergency occurs, and a Canadian hospital is the nearest facility, Medicare may cover your treatment. You can purchase a MediGap policy to cover emergency care received outside the United States.
This policy pays 80 percent of the billed charges for certain medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. after you meet a $250 yearly deductible. MediGap coverage has a lifetime limit of $50,000. Travel medical insurance options on the other hand can offer benefits with a $0 deductible and cover 100% percent of losses due to covered medical emergencies, up to $8 million per trip, depending on your policy selection.
It is extremely important to purchase international travel medical insurance to cover any gaps that may be present in your current health policy while traveling internationally.