Travel insurance

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Travel insurance

Where will your next vacation take you? If you're headed to the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, you probably don't need extra medical insurance. Most health plans will cover emergency care even when you travel outside their usual network of providers. But if you're planning to travel abroad, it may not be a bad idea to buy a policy that protects you and your family in the event that someone gets sick or injured. Here's what you need to think about before whisking away on your overseas adventure.
 
What is travel insurance? Travel insurance covers a broad range of travel-related losses and occurrences, so make sure you know what you're buying. Some common travel insurance options include trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage insurance, coverage in the event of an accidental death and emergency medical assistance.
 
What does "emergency medical assistance" entail? Generally, this type of coverage protects you if you become ill or injured while traveling. It may, for instance, pay for emergency transportation and other medical expenses not covered by your personal health insurance policy. But make sure to comb the fine print for any exclusions and limitations. If you injure yourself while engaging in some "high risk" activity, say bungee jumping or mountain climbing, you may not be covered.
 
Do I need additional medical insurance? It depends on the type of coverage you already have. Read your health insurance policy carefully and ask your carrier whether you'll be covered if you or other members of your family need care outside of the United States. Generally, Medicare and Medicaid won't pay for medical care received abroad. However, some "medigap" plans and Medicare HMOs will cover you when you travel outside the country. Consider whether your existing coverage has any gaps that a travel policy would fill. For example, would your insurance pay for an emergency medical evacuation if you suddenly became ill in a foreign country?
 
What types of policies are available? There are a number of different travel insurance options. Some policies provide short-term coverage for a single trip; others cover multiple trips over an extended period of time. In addition, some policies bundle medical coverage with other types of travel insurance, such as trip cancellation/interruption.
 
How much will it cost? Prices can vary greatly depending on the coverage you buy, your age, the cost of the trip and the length of your excursion. It pays to shop around and compare prices. Just remember, many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash before they'll provide medical services, according to the U.S. State Department. If you need to be evacuated back to the states, it could cost you upwards of $50,000.
 
Any other tips? If you're buying travel insurance, pay close attention to how the policy treats pre-existing conditions. Some insurers may not cover claims related to your health problems. If you're not sure whether the policy will pay for a given condition, ask before you buy.
 
SOURCES: Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.; Consumer Affairs Office Urges Careful Consideration In The Purchase Of Travel Insurance (March 27, 2003), Massachusetts Division of Insurance, Boston; Consumer's Guide to Travel Insurance (June 2004), North Carolina Department of Insurance, Raleigh, D.C.; Travelers and Health Insurance (Nov. 2004), Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Olympia, Washington; Healthy travels: Tips for wellness abroad, ConsumerReports.org; Health Insurance October 22, 2005
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