Is the health insurance debate missing travelers?


hospitalDoes your health insurance cover you when you leave the country? A survey commissioned by the US Travel Insurance Association suggests you aren’t.

Traditional domestic health insurance plans typically limit coverage for out-of-country medical expenses to emergency-related costs, it found. They also have high deductibles and co-pays for emergency treatment abroad and don’t cover emergency transportation in cases of life threatening illness where medical evacuation may be required.

Half of Medicare recipients may not be covered abroad, the study also revealed. And, when covered, benefits are normally limited to 80 percent of emergency treatment costs, with a $250 deductible.

Now, setting aside for a moment the self-serving nature and questionable methodology of USTIA’s survey (we don’t know how many people were surveyed or what was asked of them) it can be said that the group makes a terrific point. You probably aren’t covered by your health insurance when you leave the country.

“Travelers whose main concern is the unforeseen possibility of a health emergency while overseas should consider medical travel or other types of travel insurance,” says USTIA president Mike Ambrose.

That’s one solution. The other is that the folks in Washington who are discussing health care reform really ought to consider including language that would compel insurance companies to cover us wherever we are. We have only a vague idea of what kind of health care reform will be imposed on us. The bills under consideration make no mention of overseas coverage.

That’s no good.

Shouldn’t our health insurance cover us, no matter where we go? And not just for half the amount with a high deductible, but just like it does back home in the States?

(Photo: Funky64/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • SirWired

    I would think that for individual policies, international coverage would be rare, unless it was specifically paid for. For business policies, it may be covered for companies with an international presence. I know that my policy through my employer does cover international travel, although it does not cover evacuation.

    Given that medical care is almost always cheaper abroad, it would make sense for it to be covered. (If you are an ex-pat, getting your international insurance to include the U.S. costs a fortune.)

    But I most certainly would NOT agree with a requirement that insurance include international coverage. I could easily see medical care in popular tourist destinations instituting special U.S. tourist rates to milk that coverage for all it was worth. No country I know of provides international coverage to their citizens in their public plans.

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  • Laura


    I am an outreach coordinator for the health videos website

    I wanted to write and offer a few videos to add to the discussion. We have topics pages and channels with videos featuring health professionals, organizations and patients discussing the health care reform debate. The videos cover many different perspectives and opinions regarding the reform, so travelers can even find answers to their questions about the health care changes!

    Here are the videos:

    Hope these help…and check back at icyou for more videos about health-related topics because we update daily!


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  • Em Hoop

    I recently visited Majorca. I found that medical care there is not cheaper than in the US….. Spain is high priced. Someone I met there also had no coverage and had to pay out of pocket for care.

    My traveling companions were concerned on finding that i had not bought a temporary policy, as they do when traveling, which they do often. It was the one thing they had neglected to tell me about, as they assumed everyone buys a health insurance policy for overseas travel.
    I had never needed insurance before, but now i’m older, I guess it’s time to look into it.

  • John

    This insurance advice is not just from the Travel Insurance Association. If you visit the U.S. State Dept. web site at: and click on “international travel” and then scroll down to “health” and “insurance,” you’ll find the following written:

    “Obtaining medical treatment and hospital care abroad can be expensive, and medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost more than $50,000. Note that U.S. medical insurance is generally not accepted outside the United States, nor do the Social Security Medicare and Medicaid programs provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States. If your insurance policy does not cover you abroad, it is a good idea to consider purchasing a short-term policy that does. ”

    Travel Insured intl. offers both primary emergency medical expense coverage and a hospital admissions guarantee with its plans.

  • John

    I should add that full coverage for MedEvac, escorted by health professionals and a travel companion as needed, is included in the Travel Insured coverage.

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