Medical Emergencies and Vacation | What You Need to Know About Your Current Medical Coverage

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Research has shown that taking an annual vacation helps to relieve stress, build stronger relationships and improve creativity. Traveling to a foreign place – either domestically or abroad – gives us the opportunity to try new foods, explore new surroundings and engage in activities outside of our comfort zone. While traveling may be exhilarating, it can also increase the risk of becoming sick or injured.

It is estimated that over half of travelers or one of their companions will become ill or injured while on vacation. Most experience conditions that are not life-threatening, such as diarrhea, the common cold, skin disorders such as a rash or severe sunburn, motion sickness, fever, and minor injury. Less than 1% of these reported cases required hospitalization. But hypothetically, let’s say you do end up far from familiar surroundings and require serious medical attention. Would you know what to do?

What are some common misconceptions people have with their medical coverage?:

1. My current health insurance policy will cover any expenses.

Before your trip, find out what your current medical insurance policy will actually cover. Most do not allow for injuries related to high-risk athletic activities like bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or hang gliding. Traveling overseas? Medicaid, Medicare, and most private healthcare policies do not extend beyond our borders. Additionally, a foreign hospital may not be equipped or may be unwilling to negotiate payment with your insurance company, which means all incurred medical expenses are your responsibility and often pre-payment is expected before services are rendered. Not a scenario you want to find yourself in.

2. I’m traveling to a country with a publicly funded healthcare system. If I need medical care while I’m there, it will be free.

Many countries with a publicly funded healthcare system provide services based on the patient’s citizenship or residency. As a non-resident, you may not be granted access to all the services or treatment you need.

3. My country’s embassy or my health insurance provider will pay for me to be airlifted to another hospital in the event of a medical emergency.

Nothing could be more frightening than finding yourself severely ill or injured in a country that does not have an adequate healthcare system. Want the bad news?  Should you require medical evacuation, the bill is solely your responsibility and could cost anywhere from $10-$200K or more.

This doesn’t mean you should spend your entire vacation hiding out in the hotel room. After all, where is the fun in that? It does mean that in addition to booking accommodations and planning an itinerary, you should take the time to develop a plan to deal with emergencies.

1. Seriously consider purchasing traveler’s health insurance that provides coverage in the event of an accident or illness, both domestically and internationally. Some insurers will even allow you to pay an extra premium for coverage in the event of an injury due to high risk activity. Be sure to include medical evacuation and repatriation coverage in addition to assistance in arranging the medical evacuation.

2. If traveling overseas, visit the website for the U.S. embassy or consulate in the area you will be visiting. Here you will find a list of local healthcare providers in addition to what type of medical care is available in that area. U.S. Citizens can enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for the most current information on travel alerts and warnings.

3. The best way to avoid serious illness or injury is to take steps to prevent them entirely. Go ahead and let your hair down, but use common sense in every situation. If you have a chronic health problem, get approval from your healthcare provider to travel.

Finally, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your vacation!