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Expats and Health Insurance Needs

The U.S. Federal Government estimates that there are over 5.2 million Americans are living outside their borders. These expatriates, or expats, often find overseas health care to be very different from what they’ve become accustomed to in the United States – just how different depends on the location where the expat has decided to reside and the health care standards in the foreign country.

Of course, there are non U.S. countries with very high health care standards (some would say even higher standards than those of the U.S.), and there are certainly places in the world that are far more dangerous than the U.S. from a health care perspective. Whether poor quality of care or a large degree of medical risk is in your future as an expat, it’s best to determine how to handle this tricky issue before you pack your belongings and leave the country.

What to know before you leave

It’s important to understand that the U.S. Government cannot pay for hospital or medical services for Americans who are outside the country. In addition, they cannot pay to evacuate Americans for treatment back in the States. Nor does the Social Security Medicare Program cover hospital or medical services outside the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs will only pay for hospital and medical service outside the United States if you are a veteran with a documented service-related disability.

Some expats are relocated by employers who offer medical insurance that covers them while traveling abroad, but it’s important to understand the details of the coverage, such as whether it includes both routine and emergency medical treatment, coverage for hospitalizations, and funds for medical evacuations. If the plan offered by your employer is missing some of these key coverages, consider supplementing their basic coverage with a little travel medical coverage of your own to fill in the gaps.

If you are required to arrange for your own health insurance coverage, it’s useful to do some research to find out how citizens of the country where you will reside pay for their medical care. For example, some countries have government-sponsored health insurance that may provide some coverage to foreign residents. Others have dual systems with national health care supplemented by private health insurance. In countries where many American expatriates live, like Mexico for example, you will find that purchasing a travel medical plan is the best option for protecting your health.

Travel Health Insurance Options for U.S. Expats

A number of worldwide medical plans can meet the needs of expats, and while it’s imperative to review the benefits and exclusions of a policy so you can be sure you understand what’s covered and what is not, it’s also important to take a hard look at the extra benefits offered with these plans because they may be of great use to expats.

Some of these ‘extra’ benefits include:

  • Multi-lingual assistance services
  • Accidental death and dismemberment coverage
  • Emergency medical evacuation services
  • Return of minor dependent children
  • Emergency medical reunion
  • Coverage for participation in hazardous sports
  • Coverage for trips back to your home country
  • Repatriation (return of mortal remains in case of death)

The advantages of having your own medical insurance are speed of service, quality of medical care, and location of treatment. As any overseas private health care patient will tell you, when you have your own medical insurance, you get to choose when medical treatments will take place, the specialist who will treat you, and typically the location where the treatment will be administered. In addition, you’ll often have the privacy of an en-suite room with some level of comfort.

In some situations, an expatriate may wish to be in their home country – perhaps to be with family and friends – for emergency medical care. In that case, worldwide medical with medical evacuation coverage is ideal because the insurance provider may provide coverage for flights to a location you specify for medical treatment.

What to know before you buy

Before purchasing a worldwide medical plan, you should understand the following:

  1. You will agree to give the insurers complete and accurate information. If you do not, your coverage may be cancelled or claims may be refused.
  2. You will agree to pay premiums on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, depending on the plan. If you do not pay the premiums on time, your coverage will end and the insurer will pay only for legitimate costs up the the last date covered by your premium payments.
  3. Your premium cost is likely to rise every year. Medical inflation rates are approximately 10% and if you age into a new coverage level, your premiums are likely to go even higher.
  4. The coverage provided by each plan varies from plan to plan, so it’s an absolute imperative that you review the policy certificate carefully to understand the terms of your coverage.

For those with pre-existing conditions – that is, any medical condition that has been previously diagnosed and treated – you can purchase a coverage upgrade to insure against the recurrence of an illness, and more importantly, to insure coverage despite the pre-existing condition. Of critical importance to all expats is the ability to gain access to prompt medical treatment and quality medical care facilities. No one wants to have to wait for diagnostic or even preventative procedures or face long waiting lists when it comes to important medical care and often a travel insurance policy will fit the need.

An expert online resource, Travel Insurance Review provides timely, useful, and comprehensive reviews, information, and travel insurance quotes to travelers who want to protect themselves, their families, and their travel investment while traveling inside the U.S. and abroad.