Make sure your health insurance is a good traveler
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And health insurance that does cover you overseas
doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get help from your insurer
in finding appropriate medical care. The local U.S. embassy might
have a list of doctors for visiting Americans needing medical treatment,
but it generally is simply a list of English-speaking doctors. Physician
credentials usually are not checked, says Valente.
Cures for foreign coverage lapses
There are ways to keep worries about potential travel illness or
accidents from ruining your travel.
First, know exactly what overseas medical bills and
situations are included in your primary health coverage. Before
you depart, read your policy and call your health insurer (the number
on the back of your insurance card) for specifics on any coverage
abroad. This can vary from country to country, so it's wise to individually
research each trip.
You might find yourself pleasantly surprised or get
a nasty shock when you do your homework. Large medical networks
such as Blue Cross Blue Shield have doctors and hospitals on call
around the globe; a smaller plan or an employer's self-insured medical
coverage may have none.
In addition to checking with your health plan, find
out what your credit card company has to offer. VISA and American
Express cardholders can get some extra coverage when they travel
overseas, but it's important to know the extent of the coverage
and when it kicks in.
"The vast majority of credit card companies don't
cover medical or medical evacuation," McGinnity says. "They'll
help you find a doctor or replace a lost prescription, things like
If your existing health coverage is limited or you just want more
peace of mind while traveling, consider buying added coverage. Your
current medical plan might have options to augment your coverage.
Private insurers also are starting to fill in travel gaps.
The Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, for example,
has launched Signature Passport, a medical insurance policy for
travelers. It features coverage for medical costs incurred while
traveling abroad, including emergency medical transportation to
the nearest advanced medical facility. Signature Passport currently
is available in Illinois, Texas and California and will be rolled
out in other states later this year.
A separate medical evacuation policy might be justified
if you are traveling to a country with few roads and poor hospital
infrastructure. Most adventure
travel companies will require this before you sign onto one
of their trips.
These policies work only for a given trip, but can
be a literal life and bank account saver. "The medical coverage
is good from the time you leave your door to when you come back,"
says Travel Guard's McGinnity.
Affinity groups also are a source of travel insurance.
Check with your automobile club, your college alumni group or even
an association with a membership that travels frequently. The Divers
Alert Network, for example, offers members access to an overseas
medical plan offered by MedAire Inc. "We don't actually provide
services to individuals, but we work with affinity groups like the
Diver Alert Network," says MedAire's Valente.
These types of policies generally bundle in some travel
extras, such as replacing lost baggage, coverage for trip delays
or accidental death benefits. So look at them thoroughly to make
sure that the medical component will fill your travel needs.
Jenny C. McCune is a contributing
editor based in Montana.