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Everything packed for summer holidays? What about health insurance?

The summer months are upon us and many expats are planning, or have already booked, a trip home. When heading home, many of us like to develop lists of things we need to get done beforehand. These lists often include the obvious like plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, gifts, and, most importantly, our passports. There is one less obvious thing many forget however, and that is their health insurance.

Posted on Jun 04, 2015 by

We all know that health insurance is one of those necessary items for life in the city we have selected as our new home, and many of us have taken out plans to cover our medical expenses should the need arise. The problem is, those who are heading home for a holiday may find that they are not covered if they need medical care while abroad. That trip home can quickly become one of the most expensive things of the year.

To avoid this, you should be aware of your options for health care insurance coverage while you are out of the country this summer.

What are my options?

For travelling, there are a number of different types of plans available, each with their own merits. In order to get the best coverage options, most expats will select between two:

  • Travel insurance: plans designed specifically to provide coverage while the policyholder is away from their main place of residence.
  • Annual international insurance: plans designed to provide ongoing coverage for medical care anywhere in the world.

Of course, there are other types of plans out there, but these two are not only the most common, but they are the most relevant to expats who will be travelling.

Which is better?

While a travel insurance is more flexible because you can buy it just for the days that you need, in terms of the actual level of coverage and service, an annual international health insurance will be the better of the two. Here’s five reasons why:

1. Travel insurance doesn’t offer full coverage

With many travel insurance plans, there are often strict or lower limits revolving around what is covered while you are away. The reason for this is because travel plans are usually designed to cover emergencies only.

These plans also often have notable exclusions including any medical costs related to pregnancy, pre-existing medical conditions, accidents from sports, racing, etc. Many people don’t think that a travel insurance is that important and just buy any option on the internet. They may not realize that a travel insurance will exclude far more than a normal health insurance policy, and when they do, it may be too late.

International plans, on the other hand, usually have high coverage limits and less-strict exclusion policies because they are designed to be long term coverages. This means that you will likely be fully covered for more than one destination, for routine visits like annual checkups to your home doctor, and for sport injuries.

2. With travel insurance, you are going to have to pay for medical care up front

The way most travel insurance plans have been created, they do not have direct billing and will reimburse you for expenses once you have submitted your claim.This means that you will need to pay for most medical expenses out of pocket, and then wait for the company to reimburse you.

If you are in countries where medical care is quite expensive, this can be a large cost that many would prefer not to swallow - even if you get the money back in the future. International insurance providers and plans, on the other hand, often offer international direct billing. This means that if you visit a medical facility that is included in the provider’s network - many offer wide spread networks with many facilities in each country - the facility can bill the provider directly.

Even if you visit a facility that doesn’t support direct billing for your plan, international providers will usually have a larger administrative support team, and can reimburse much faster. Some travel insurers can take a few months to reimburse, whereas international health insurers will rarely take longer than 3 - 4 weeks.This makes the up-front costs you might have to pay more manageable.

3. Travel insurance is not designed with long-term health in mind

What we mean by this is that travel plans, while offering coverage for medical emergencies, are designed to cover you just enough so that they can send you home, which is where a travel insurer’s responsibilities end. If you have your own health insurance at home, then this will (hopefully) cover the costs for further treatment once you’re back. If you don’t, then you may need to cover this cost out of pocket. This idea of being just well enough to travel can be overall detrimental to your health, and that of others around you, especially if you have a long trip home.

International plans, however, are designed to help you get the best medical care available, regardless of your location. This is because this is a long-term plan, so it’s designed to ensure that you have the best chance of making a full recovery. If they send you home and you do not make a full recovery, they will have to cover future medical costs. If, for example, you are going to Africa for a holiday this summer and you get sick, a travel insurance plan will look to get you back home as fast as possible whether that is what’s best for you or not; all in the name of lowering the cost to the insurer. An annual international plan will first decide what is best for your health. If that means treating you at your current location, or taking you to a nearby country with higher standards of care, they will do that first. Only after you and your doctor agree that it is time for you to go home will your insurer send you there. Very often, they will also cover the cost for you to travel home.

4. There are restrictive time limits attached to travel insurance

When applying for a medical travel insurance, you will be asked for the dates that you will be away. If you decide to extend your trip, you can only extend your coverage if you are still in good health. If for example, you had an accident during your trip and your travel insurance is coming to an end and you still need treatment, you cannot simply extend your coverage and expect to have the treatment covered. You will be underwritten again, which means that your extended travel policy will not cover the treatment for the injury that you had already.

International insurance, however, does not have limits like this, so if you decide to extend your trip, you will still be covered.

5. Travel insurance doesn’t cover family evacuation

If you or a family member are injured while on holiday and need to be evacuated either back home or to the nearest medical facility, travel insurance will cover only the costs attributed to the person who was injured. This leaves the rest of the family to find and fund their own evacuation options - something you probably don’t want.

Many international plans, though, do offer evacuation support for the whole family, which not only makes things easier, but also less stressful for everyone.

What about the cost?

Yes, international health insurance plans do cost more than travel plans. But the difference is that these plans offer year-round coverage instead of just coverage during your trip. If you are an expat, then you and your family will likely need private health insurance anyways. By purchasing an international plan, you not only secure coverage at home, but also when you travel. When looking at the bigger picture, this makes international health insurance plans a much better investment.

What is my next step from here?

Regardless of the type of plan you do select, it is important that you have health insurance in place before you leave for your trip, and that you are aware of any coverage gaps or limits. We strongly recommend talking to an insurance expert at Pacific Prime, who can explain the differences in the plans available and help you find the best plan for travel or year-round coverage.

Contact us today to learn more.


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