Traveling for Spring Break? Consider Your Health

March 16, 2015

With temperatures slowly trending upward, that spring break trip you planned with your family is just around the corner. When planning a vacation, particularly an international vacation, the focus is generally on ensuring that the cost of plane tickets does not exceed your monthly salary and that the accommodations are clean and convenient. Private bathroom?  Check. You’d be surprised how many overseas hotels offer that as a “special feature.”  (Yes, really.)

Another consideration, however, and one that no one wants to think about, is the potential for medical emergencies. Will your health insurance cover the cost of the emergency room visit in Detroit? What about in Italy?  What if you need medications?  If you are planning a trip, whether domestic or international, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Check with your health insurance provider

Your best bet is to check first with your health insurance provider. Various insurance companies may have differing coverage rules for travel. Your current health insurance may provide coverage when you obtain emergency medical care while traveling, either domestically or internationally.  Emergencies are typically considered to be events requiring immediate medical attention because they pose a significant risk to your life or health or materially impair a bodily function.  Your insurance may also provide coverage for urgent care facilities while traveling. Information about your insurer’s policies regarding coverage for domestic and foreign travel may also be available on the insurer’s website.

For additional information regarding traveling abroad, visit the U.S. Department of State website .  Included on this site is a particularly helpful list of suggested questions to ask your insurer regarding insurance coverage before traveling abroad, as well as guidance to finding physicians, hospitals, and medical evacuation companies.

Traveling with Medicare

If you have Medicare and plan to travel domestically, you have coverage.  However, those who have health care through Medicare do not have coverage for foreign travel, except in certain limited circumstances.  Those limited circumstances include situations when you are in the United States when an emergency occurs and the nearest hospital is on foreign soil (Canada or Mexico), situations when you are experiencing an emergency while traveling through Canada when going directly between Alaska and the other U.S. states, and situations when you live in the U.S. with the closest hospital being on foreign soil (Canada or Mexico).

For those traveling on cruises, you may be covered through Medicare Part B (physician services) if you are on a ship and receive necessary medical care on that ship, unless the ship is more than 6 hours away from a port in the United States.  If no exception applies, you are responsible for paying for any medical services received while traveling in a foreign country and no reimbursement will be provided by Medicare upon return to the United States.  Medicare also does not provide reimbursement for medications that you purchase overseas.   For more information regarding Medicare and foreign travel coverage, go here.

However, if you have Medicare coverage through a Medigap or Medicare Supplement plan, you may have some coverage when traveling outside the United States.  Check with your Medigap or Medicare Supplement plan for additional information regarding foreign travel.  If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, your coverage is through the insurance company which most likely does provide emergency coverage for overseas travel.

Consider travel insurance

Whether you are traveling internationally, you're concerned about potential confusion regarding reimbursements from your health insurer, or to ensure that you have medical coverage if you have Medicare, you may want to research medical travel insurance.

Keep in mind insurance policies differ, and the expenses covered by one policy may not necessarily be covered by another. Carefully read the terms and conditions of any policy that you do purchase and call to clarify any potential misunderstandings.

Generally, you would pay for any medical expenses incurred and then submit your claims to the insurance company for reimbursement.   Travel medical insurance can cover a range of expenses.  You would generally be covered for emergency expenses.  Companies like MEDEX or TravelGuard offer a variety of plans depending on the type of travel and level of medical coverage sought.  Coverage may be provided for existing medical conditions, but you would always want to double check with the insurer.  Travel medical insurance can also be useful as a resource to call when you have a medical emergency overseas.  The insurance company can assist you with finding English-speaking medical providers, paying for claims, or even obtaining a medical evacuation.

Traveling is always an exciting and interesting experience.  Preparation in the event of an emergency will leave you with the peace of mind necessary to rest and truly enjoy your vacation!

This post was written by Julie Borisov, a staff attorney at Colorado PERA. Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.