A lot of people think that as long as you have medical insurance in the US, you’re covered if you’re traveling overseas. However, our US policies may or may not actually cover everything that could arise while you’re in a foreign country if you run into any issues.

We’ve seen on more than one occasion medical needs come up while traveling (for instance, you or one of your traveling companions gets sick or seriously injured) and suddenly you find yourself operating outside of your originally planned itinerary.

Most US medical plans will cover some, but not all, of the medical costs. But even doctors visits and medication aside, the real lifesaver is often the additional expenses you don’t even think about until they’re staring you in the face! Travel insurance will step in and not only take care of any expenses not covered by your US medical policy (up to your coverage amount), but will then also cover things that may need to be changed, adjusted, or cancelled. The can include things like changed or cancelled flights, extra nights in hotels, and even meals up to your coverage limits.

Be sure to call your insurance company beforehand to ask if your plan includes overseas health insurance. And if it does, what exactly does it cover?

The US State Department suggests some questions to ask your insurer, including:

  • Does my plan cover emergency expenses abroad such as returning me to the United States for treatment if I become seriously ill?
  • Do you require pre-authorizations or second opinions before emergency treatment can begin?
  • Do you guarantee medical payments abroad?

While we can’t speak to what your specific insurance policy will cover overseas, here are the general policies of a few major insurers.

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield does offer travel coverage, but draws a line between “urgent care” and “emergency care.” Emergency care, Anthem says, is requires by an injury or condition severe enough to result in “placing the Member’s physical and or mental health in serious jeopardy; serious impairment to bodily functions; or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.”

“Urgent care,” on the other hand, “may not be covered to the same extent as emergency care.” For example, Anthem says, a fever not higher than 104° is considered urgent, not emergency care.

Aetna states that “emergency care is covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week – anywhere in the world.” An emergency, Aetna says, “is a situation in which you could reasonably expect that the absence of immediate medical attention could result in serious jeopardy to your health, or if you are a pregnant woman, to the health of your unborn child.” Cigna advises members to check their policies: “Outside of the U.S., coverage is limited to emergency services as defined in the policy.”

In short, your definition of “emergency” may differ from your insurer’s definition, and you may find yourself on the hook for medical expenses you thought were covered. That’s why buying travel insurance is so important as  it “can help fill any gaps in domestic health insurance coverage.” (Source: U.S. News & World Report)

Sources: Allianz Global Assistance, US News & World Report, Aetna, Cigna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, US Department of State

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