So You Think Your Covered When Traveling Abroad?

Don’t Be Fooled When Calling Your Domestic Insurance Company

This post is about a topic I deal with on a daily basis and one that it is clear people are just not paying much attention to.  The past four years has been at the very least confusing for most Americans or Foreign Nationals living and working in the United States.  The Affordable Care Act in all it’s glory is by most accounts a big mess.  There really is no clarity about how it affects each one of us here in the states.  But I really do not want to talk about the ACA and all it’s issues, but I do want to talk about how it affects ones health insurance cover when they travel abroad.

So here is the typical scenario that I come across on a daily basis.  Every week I run into people I know while meeting others for the first time.  During normal conversations people love to share their excitement about either an upcoming trip they are planning or they share tales about one they just returned from.  Most of the time these trips end up being International in nature.  People are traveling to Mexico, South American, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, Ireland – you name it people are traveling everywhere…

Most of the people’s stories I have the opportunity to hear actually know what it is I do – an International Health Insurance Broker.  I can honestly say that with few exceptions I say nothing about what I do or what I know.  But almost without exception people share the fact that they take these International adventures and almost 8 out of 10 people will share the fact they did not purchase Travel Medical Insurance or Trip Cancellation Insurance prior to their trips.  In the rare occasion I ask – their responses are almost always the same – “We are covered by our current health insurance we don’t need it” and there in-lies the real crux of the matter.

Some people will reach out and call their domestic insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and ask the right question… “Are we covered when we travel to Mexico?” (or any other International destination) and the answer they receive seems to always be a resounding YES.  But is that correct and do these people truly understand both the depth of their question and the answers they receive from their insurer?  I have written a couple of posts about this very subject just this year.  The short answer is that typically there is limited coverage for EMERGENCY  care but what exactly does this mean?  What about everything else?  One thing that the limited coverage for emergency care IS NOT is that it is not the same thing as EMERGENCY MEDICAL EVACUATION – and in fact your domestic insurance will more than likely not only NOT cover care in that vein but they will not be able to assist you during the emergency itself either.  You will be on your own and the entire burden of the cost of the emergency will be yours to take care of.

In almost all domestic health insurance plans your insurance company will require you to pay for any care at the time of service while abroad and when you return home you can then submit your bills for review and potential reimbursement.  However you will be first required to pay the providers in full, then obtain ALL of your medical records translated into English and then you can submit them for review.  In the very best scenario your insurance company will reimburse you for the emergency services and maybe even some of the costs associated with any in-patient services directly related to the emergency, BUT you will have to meet all deductibles and Out-of-Pocket policy maximums before they pay a dime.  AND – all services that they agree to consider that are not under the immediate emergency scenario will more than likely be considered OUT OF NETWORK which with most plans today causes a doubling or even tripling of your deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.  NOTHING will be covered for any Emergency Evacuations with the exception of EXTREMELY RARE CASES.

The truth is that as I understand it – the Affordable Care Act simply does not require U.S. Domestic Insurers to cover you when outside the borders of the United States – very much like how Medicare works.  So really when you travel abroad you are traveling naked or almost naked as far as health insurance is concerned.  But it gets worse…  If you have a true medical emergency or develop a serious illness – WHO is going to assist you and guide you to the proper care when needed?  NOT your Domestic Insurer that is for sure.  If you need to be hospitalized who will guarantee payment?  NOT your domestic insurer.  If translation services are needed who will help you with this during your medical situation? NOT your Domestic Insurer.  What if you need to be evacuated to another country for care who will pay that cost?  Not your domestic insurer.  The truth is they simply are not equipped to handle health cover abroad – that is just NOT what they do.

Anthem Blue Cross of California’s Answer

Just this week I decided to call one of the largest insurers in the country.  I called Anthem Blue Cross of California and spoke at length with a representative in the broker division.  This rep has been with Anthem Blue Cross for a very long time and she clearly understood the topic.  We talked about how Anthem might cover one of their subscribers while outside the borders of the United States.  She confirmed with me that my understanding of how claims might be handled in an International Scenario where correct and that in fact she too believed that people either misunderstand how their coverage works while abroad or they simply choose the hear what they want to hear.   She also said that the review process for International Claims is at least a 6 week process and generally it takes that long just to get an initial response.

People call Anthem and ask if they are covered while in Mexico (or elsewhere) on vacation and when the representative tells them they are for emergency care that is where the call typically ends.  The customer just heard what they wanted to hear without fully understanding the consequences of traveling with ONLY their U.S. Domestic Cover.  In addition there are situations that would be handled different depending on whether you are on a Grandfathered Status health plan or a current Metal ACA Compliant plan.  As it was explained to me the minute you leave the borders of the U.S. your ACA coverage is effectively no coverage.

So why do people neglect to obtain proper cover prior to leaving on a trip out-bound from the United States?  Well I personally think most people are basically lazy, and really do not want to spend much time researching the truth.  In addition many people think that International coverage is expensive and that simply is not the case.  Most of the time it cost less to insure your entire family than the cost of a single diner eating out.  Then there is further confusion as to what the difference is between Travel Medical Insurance and Trip Cancellation Insurance.  One product type is primarily an International Major Medical plan and the other although it provides medical benefits the Trip Cancellation plans are designed for those who have a pre-paid investment in an upcoming trip and they are more concerned with insuring their investment and trip rather than their health.  It is the Trip Cancellation plans that can be fairly expensive and cost as much as 10% of the total investment pre-paid for your trip.

Don’t make this mistake before you travel abroad.  Do you homework and make sure you understand what is covered and what is not by your domestic insurance plan.  Request copies of your Certificate of Coverage and READ IT.  Then before you travel call us and let us help you understand what you have and what the cost would be to provide your family with the proper insurance for your trip.  A recent post was just released on MAPPINGMEGAN.COM which is one of the premier adventure travel blogs about this very subject.  Megan Jerrad’s adventure travel site caters to tens of thousands of Global Travelers and Expats and she more and more tries to drive this very point home to her readers.

International travel can be and is exciting but it is not without risk.  You do not want to be one of the few who experience a real emergency or face a serious illness while so far away from home.   For the few dollars a day it costs to provide proper International cover you will be able to travel with peace of mind that should the tables turn for the worst that you have both the financial and support insurance in place that will give you the best possible chance to recover and continue on your way

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GeoBlue_transparent_logoObtaining coverage is simple and easy to do.  You can visit our website and choose the appropriate plan type and then you can generate a no cost quote online.  When you are ready you simply enroll online and receive all your documentation in your email inbox.  It is really that easy.  But should you have questions reach out to me as I am here to help.  I am but one of a few U.S. based brokers who works entirely in the International health insurance markets.  You can reach me by phone @ (619) 435-6700, via email “” or online via Google Hangouts…


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About Timothy Jennings
Based in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I have worked in both the Domestic and International markets for most of my adult life. During the past four years the United States has seen a complete change in direction when it comes to accessing health care and obtaining mandated health insurance coverage. I have been an agent selling in the U.S. markets for more than 30 years. Today I work exclusively serving the needs of our International health insurance clients. If you are outbound or inbound to the United States I can help guide you through the process of selecting proper International Cover that is right for your family.

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