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  • Writer's pictureRyan A. Dunn, CFP®

Travel Health Insurance

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t travel abroad without first checking to see what your health insurance plan covers.

  • Travel insurance is not the same as travel health insurance.

  • You may need to get supplemental coverage.

People are starting to travel internationally again now that COVID has subsided. Before packing your bags, however, it’s important to confirm the type of medical coverage you’ll have in case you get sick or injured overseas. I know that’s not the fun part of making travel plans, but it can be very dangerous (and expensive) if you’re not adequately protected. Don’t assume you’re covered by your regular health insurance plan.

I bring this up because my father got very sick just after returning from an arduous bicycle trip to Vietnam. He’s fine now, and fortunately, it wasn’t COVID or the flu. But, he forgot to get travel health insurance. I’m not sure what we would have done if his illness had spiked while still in a third-world country a dozen time zones away. We dodged a bullet, to say the least.

One of our clients is a retired couple who visits a remote island off the coast of Croatia every year. On a recent trip, the wife had complications from her gall bladder. The island has no hospital and only a single general practice doctor in the area. She had to be airlifted by Medevac to a hospital on mainland Croatia to have emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. Fortunately, the surgery went well and only cost the couple a few thousand dollars out of pocket. Luckily, they had great retiree coverage through the wife’s health plan from her former employer. Without that health coverage, the cost of having surgery overseas could have cost them roughly $80,000.

Next Steps

Before leaving on a trip, it’s very important to contact your current insurance provider to confirm exactly what they will cover if you get sick or injured while traveling overseas. It’s also important to disclose which country(s) you’ll be visiting and whether you’ll be traveling by air or cruise ship – that can make a difference (more on that in a minute).

For instance, if you’re retired, Medicare Part B generally does not cover international travel, although there are exceptions if you’re on a cruise ship within six hours of a U.S. port. But for most of our retired clients, we recommend that they get some kind of Medigap plan G or N (aka supplemental) policy to fill the gap. To qualify it needs to be in the first 60 days of the trip and they will cover 80% of billed charges after meeting the $250 deductible for the year. See the chart below for more info on which Medigap plan types will cover foreign travel:

Again, we highly recommend contacting your Medigap provider before traveling to understand exactly what is (and is not) covered. If you’re not covered, traveler’s coverage is relatively cheap. For example, a one-week trip for someone aged 55 with a $0 deductible and a $1 million medical limit would be $44 for the entire trip. For a family, this might be somewhere in the range of $100 to $150.

` If still working, call your health insurance carrier and see if they can provide you with a rider to cover your trip. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has a subsidiary called GeoBlue. You can also contact IMG Global Travel Medical Insurance, as well as Allianz, Aetna, or United Healthcare among other carriers for a short-term travel-health insurance policy. If you’re a AAA member, you may find it economical to go with their Patriot Travel Medical Insurance.

If you’re planning aggressive adventure travel, it may be worth considering Berkshire Hathaway’s AdrenalineCare® - Comprehensive Adventure Travel Insurance which combines trip insurance and travel medical insurance. Tour operators such as Overseas Adventure Travel have travel health insurance partnerships with major carriers like Allianz (see above). From the website or app, just enter your trip dates, where you’ll be visiting, and the number of travelers in your party to get some quotes. Just don’t skimp here on a no-name, low-budget provider. You may find that coverage costs more if going to a remote, third-world country than to western Europe. Again, short-term travel insurance is generally very affordable and rarely requires a medical exam. Carriers want your business and will make the process as easy as possible. Depending on the carrier, however, you may need to go through a written underwriting process. This isn’t the level of underwriting you may have experienced when applying for life insurance. But it could increase the cost of a policy if you have pre-existing conditions.

Finally, it might be worth checking with your hotel or resort to see what kind of on-site medical service they have. One of my business partners is a very fit 50-something triathlete who was stricken with severe nausea and vomiting in Dubai. Even worse, it was on New Year’s eve the night before he was scheduled to depart for a 15-hour flight back to the U.S. Fortunately, his high-end hotel had an American-trained English-speaking doctor on call. The doctor and two nurses came to my colleague’s room, checked his vitals, administered IV fluids, and wrote prescriptions to be filled at a nearby pharmacy. Because the onsite medical team accepted my partner’s regular health insurance, he was able to get most of the emergency care reimbursed within a month or two of the trip, and his out-of-pocket cost was only a few hundred dollars. He survived the arduous plane ride home with just minor discomfort.

Conclusion If you or someone close to you has overseas travel plans or just needs a review of their mainstream health coverage, please hesitate to reach out. We’ve helped many clients like you in similar situations.


RYAN A. DUNN, CFP®, is a Wealth Manager at Novi Wealth


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