American Travellers Uninformed About Travel Insurance

Unlike Canadians, American travellers are hugely naïve and uninformed about what their health insurance will cover when they travel abroad. Despite brochure promises that emergency care will be covered outside of their residential region and overseas, questions like these are important…

  • Will my insurer pay the foreign hospital or doctors directly and not force me to pay up front and try to collect from my insurer later?
  • Will I be repatriated to a hospital at home by air ambulance or commercial carrier?
  • Does air evacuation to a suitable hospital mean dropping me in a foreign country or bringing me home?
  • What does emergency assistance* mean?

Chances are, the questions above aren’t being asked.

How many ask what the limits on their coverage may be: $10,000? $25,000? A mere pittance that won’t come close to paying their bills as they are tendered by foreign hospitals, which are not cheap. If you want world-class care—be prepared to pay world-class prices.

What is so astonishing about American travellers is that they will insure their baggage, cancelled trips, missed connections, even tickets to a cruise ship show, but will neglect to pay for medical coverage which, if not adequate, can leave them bankrupt. What makes one suitcase with some questionable clothing that won’t be worn for another year worth insuring? My concept of insurance is that it should cover very valuable, high-cost resources—like your car, your house, your medical bills.

According to the United States Travel Insurance Association (UStiA), of 67 million people who bought travel insurance in 2006, almost 80 per cent paid for trip cancellation/interruption, missed connections, and baggage, but only four per cent of sales were for specific medical and medical evacuation policies. And though some medical coverage was embedded in these single-trip policies, the coverage was limited to about $10,000 or $25,000 per trip. American travellers should also look into what their health insurance covers for medical emergencies that occur while travelling within the US and internationally—if it covers anything.

In Canada or Europe, no travel insurance policy is available that does not provide at least $1 million in medical coverage—some going up to $5 million, some even unlimited.

That’s not to say such high-volume medical plans are not available in the US. They are. But they are not promoted heavily and there is virtually no public education about the need for such comprehensive health insurance while travelling.

On the TIF website, you can find a listing of travel insurance products for Americans. Always look for plans that offer at least $1 million in medical coverage, air repatriation to a hospital at home, and direct payments to foreign hospital and doctors—as a basic minimum.

Anything less is foolhardy.

*Emergency assistance means helping you get to the right hospital and doctor—not coverage of your bills.

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