Do You Really Need Medical Travel Insurance?

Posted on Fri, Dec 08, 2017

This February, a 74 year-old woman from British Columbia was in a tragic car accident while on vacation in California. After her vehicle was struck, she was rushed to the hospital. During her time there she racked up 400 pages worth of medical bills, adding up to more than $500,000. Like many who travel, she was insured in her home country, and would have paid a fraction of that cost had she been injured there. However, very few basic health insurance plans will cover the cost of treatment abroad. This prompts many to ask the question: do I need medical travel insurance?

What is Medical Travel Insurance?

In the United States, conventional health insurance supports the medical costs that we incur in our daily lives and helps us cope with the high cost of emergency treatment if we become seriously injured. The National Institute of Health estimates that a single visit to the emergency room alone costs an average of $1,233. Keep in mind this number is an average, so it reflects the number of emergency room cases that are quick fixes. The cost is much higher for more severe health problems.

While domestic health insurance can help with the cost of treatment at home, things become much stickier abroad. One common myth about seeing a doctor in a foreign country is that the country’s universal healthcare will pay for your visit. Even in countries with robust, government-sponsored healthcare programs, this is simply untrue. As the CDC notes, no foreign government is going to cover the cost of your medical treatment while you are a guest in their country.

This is where medical travel insurance is valuable. A medical travel insurance plan will help to alleviate the cost of medical treatment abroad. As with domestic health insurance, there are a wide variety of plans available to cover a range of medical needs abroad. Unlike with domestic insurance, however, someone looking to purchase medical travel insurance may find themselves picking particular countries in which the plan will apply.

Who Needs Medical Travel Insurance?

So do you need medical travel insurance? It depends. Similar to the domestic insurance market, the reason for having a variety of plan options available is that no one plan will cover every person’s needs; different people have different things to gain or lose from a medical travel insurance plan. Here are some groups of people with more to gain:

  • Adventure Tourists: Adventure tourism is on the rise as young people start to make their way into career paths that provide sufficient income and time off to support incredibly active vacations. Thanks to safety advancements in extreme sports, and the advent of air ambulances, extreme sports are no longer as dangerous as they once were. Nonetheless, according to a 2013 report compiled by the EU, over six million people are treated for sporting-related injuries each year. The message is clear: medical travel insurance can be crucial for adventure tourists.

  • Frequent Fliers: Not many Americans travel overseas for business, but those who do can often spend a lot of time out of the country with clients. When you start to spend more time abroad than in your home country, your domestic health insurance plan starts to lose its value. Medical travel insurance can be a better investment than domestic health insurance for these regular travelers.

  • Medical Tourists: As healthcare costs in America rise, medical tourism is beginning to catch on. By traveling to countries where medical standards are high (but costs remain low), many such tourists are able to save big on otherwise costly treatments. A carefully crafted travel insurance plan could help to lower these costs even further, while providing peace of mind during the ensuing recovery vacation.

Medical travel insurance isn’t for everyone, but for those who could incur high charges for medical treatment abroad, they can be indispensable.


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