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Health Insurance When Traveling: Should You Include the U.S.A.?

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The summer holidays are nearly here! You’re planning treks in the jungle, camping in the mountains and pina coladas on the beach, but before you hop on a plane, there’s something slightly less sexy (but much more important) you need to consider – health insurance.

Are You Covered While Traveling?

If you don’t have health insurance in your home country, then you definitely don’t have health insurance while you’re on vacation. (Duh). However, even if you do have health insurance at home – whether provided by the government, an employer or an independent plan – you might not be covered while abroad. For example, citizens of the European Union can receive free health care while visiting other parts of the E.U., but the European Health Insurance Card doesn’t cover medical care in the United States.

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Indeed, many travel health insurance plans don’t cover the United States. That’s because in the U.S.A., the cost of medical care is high – very high. Doctors, hospitals and even the Emergency Room are not funded by the government, meaning that the cost of every single medical service is billed straight to the patient. If that patient has insurance, those health care bills can be recouped, but if the patient is without an insurance plan, he or she must personally pay for all medical expenses. It’s a confusing system. Whereas nations such as France, Singapore and Australia subsidize the cost of health care, the United States does not; the result being that health insurance policies designed for round-the-world travelers often do not include coverage for accident or injury in the United States – the price of covering such care would simply be too high for the insurer.

What’s a Traveler to Do?

If you’re going abroad this summer, there are plenty of good reasons to purchase a travel health insurance plan, with or without coverage for the United States. Having a travel health plan means that your health and finances are protected. If you have a motorbike accident in Thailand, your broken leg will be fixed; if you’re suffering severe food poisoning in Peru, you can spend the night in the hospital; and if you develop bronchitis in China, a course of antibiotics is free. What’s more, most travel health plans also offer evacuation and repatriation, meaning that if you suffer a severe injury or illness and need better health care than the country you’re traveling can offer, you get to take a plane or a helicopter out of there, at no cost to you – an important option when visiting developing countries such as Cambodia or Bolivia. Generally, a health insurance plan for travel lasts a defined period of time; six months or one year, for example. Therefore, expats or those who travel often may prefer an independent insurance plan that offers full-time, ongoing coverage not only in your home country, but overseas as well. A health insurance plan for expats or frequent travelers will usually cover general visits to the doctor, antibiotics, hospitalization in the case of sudden illness or injury, and medication and care for chronic conditions, depending on the plan. All of these benefits will be available at home or abroad – however, if you want your health insurance to apply to travel time in the United States, your premium and deductible may be higher.

Should You Choose a Plan That Includes Coverage in the U.S.A.?

Anyone looking to purchase travel health insurance for a defined period of time has no doubt noticed that plans covering care in the United States cost more – but if a good part of your vacation will be spent in the States, it’s a good idea to pay more up front for a U.S.A.-inclusive travel insurance plan. Asreported by the New York Times in December 2013, even simple procedures in a U.S. hospital can wipe out a traveler’s entire budget: most paymore than US$10,000 to treat a fractured bone; you’ll spendaround US$1,000 to fix a dental emergency; and even one single stitch – the kind you need after falling off a bicycle –may cost more than US$500. Taking into account the high cost of medical care in the United States, paying a bit extra for a travel insurance plan with coverage in the U.S. hardly seems a waste of money. Although the one-time price of a U.S.A.-inclusive plan is higher than a plan that doesn’t include the United States, the fact is that paying US$100 more now could very literally save you thousands of dollars in the long run – and that’s the difference between taking that scuba course in the Philippines next August, versus working through every holiday for the next four years to pay off your medical bills. Similarly, expats and frequent travelers may find that, on balance, an insurance plan covering all trips abroad (including those in the United States) offer the best value for money. International companies could send their employees to the U.S. at any time, and it’s better to be prepared with a U.S.A.-inclusive policy than to be scrambling for a plan at the last minute – or worse, to have to explain to the boss why you can’t do business in the United States. Those who simply like to travel for pleasure can get better prices on premiums and deductibles by holding a U.S.A.-inclusive health insurance plan long before they’ve starting planning a cross-country road trip in the States.

Final Thoughts

As anyone who’s experienced an illness or injury while on vacation knows, holding travel health insurance is a very, very good idea. Before you purchase a plan, consider: will you be spending time in the United States? If the answer is yes, do some calculations on your own. What will a U.S. hospital charge to mend your broken arm or provide you with a dose of antibiotics? Once you’ve run the numbers, decide what insurance plan to buy, and remember: health is always a good investment.

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