International health insurance companies offer health plans similar to what you find in the United States except for the fact that they are designed for individuals planning to be in a foreign country for an extended period of time. International health insurance is also similar to travel health insurance coverage in some ways, but it is a drastically different in others.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 2,300 American citizens died from injuries received while in a foreign country between the years 2007 and 2009. A staggering 32% of those deaths were the result of traffic accidents.
These numbers obviously don’t include people who sustained injuries but survived the accident. Regardless, it’s easy to see why having international health insurance is a good idea when you travel. Driving in a foreign country involves knowing their traffic laws and customs, which are not something that is easy to learn on vacation!
Am I covered by my regular health insurance policy when I travel?
Many people believe that their current health insurance plan here in the United States will cover them when they travel abroad. But according to the U.S. Department of State, that’s not always the case. They state on their website that in many places health facilities and doctors require cash payment at the time of service and will not accept a U.S. issued insurance card as a replacement.
The Department of State goes on to say that even Americans with Medicare and Medicaid coverage are not protected when traveling outside of the country. They don’t say whether or not U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam are included in the “no coverage” policy.
It’s up to individual travelers to check with their health insurance providers about overseas coverage in foreign countries. Sometimes you will be covered up to a limited extent when you travel to Canada or Mexico, as long as your visit will be short.
In other cases you will not be covered for any medical needs outside of the country. If your current health plan does not provide you with international coverage you’ll need to purchase a separate policy from a company that does.
What’s the difference between travel and international health insurance?
Travel health care insurance is a short term product designed for people going on vacation, students who might be planning to study abroad for six months or so, exchange students, and so on. In most cases it is roughly the equivalent of major medical coverage in the U.S. in that it pays for emergency services, hospitalization, broken bones, etc.
Travel insurance typically won’t pay for medical evacuation if your injury or illness requires you to be brought home to the United States for care. However, travel insurance can be very helpful if you are treated overseas.
International health insurance is a much more comprehensive product intended for people who will be abroad for more than a year. This type of insurance can be purchased at several different levels, just as you would purchase a standard health plan in the United States. At each level there are different amounts of coverage and appropriate premiums.
What are the different levels of coverage for international health insurance?
Health insurance companies use different names just to describe the various levels of their products. In a generic sense, the best coverage will be completely comprehensive and cover just about any medical need you might have while in a foreign country.
If you purchase the highest level of insurance you can expect medical evacuation coverage to be included. This coverage allows for you to be airlifted back to the United States in the event that your condition prevents you from traveling through your normal airline reservations.
The next level would be equivalent to our major medical coverage. It provides for emergency care and hospitalization that might be required as the result of an accident or sudden illness.
Like domestic major medical there are coverage limits and deductibles involved. It doesn’t cover the cost of routine doctor visits, non-emergency diagnostics, and maternity care.
The third level of coverage is somewhat comparable to our HMO health insurance plans in the U.S. The only significant difference is that it won’t cover major medical needs at very high levels, if at all.
Usually this type of insurance is purchased by students and younger tourists who tend to be healthier. It provides coverage for minor illnesses, some prescription drugs, and minor injuries resulting from various kinds of accidents.
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