Have Travel Insurance? Be Prepared to Prove It

Heading to Great Britain or Europe this summer or fall? Be sure to pack an umbrella, plenty of money (it now takes about $1.70 US dollars to buy one GB pound, or $1.37 for a euro), and don’t forget to carry proof of private travel insurance. Such proof is becoming mandatory in many countries—especially if you are a resident of the United States or Canada.

Related: Carry Proof of Travel Insurance in Europe

Residents of most European countries have access to the European Health Insurance Card, which entitles them to get necessary medical care free or at reduced cost in the public health care system of any of the 28 EU countries, under the same conditions and at the same cost as people insured in that country. But the card does not cover any private health care or costs such as a return flight home. And as each country’s health care is different, services that cost nothing at home might not be free in another country. Consequently, experienced travellers buy supplemental health insurance that covers those gaps and that allows treatment from private sector hospitals and doctors as well.

But for Americans and Canadians, there are no reciprocal health insurance agreements with other countries (or with each other), so you must either buy private travel insurance that covers you internationally, or you can “go bare”—which is a huge risk, because hospitals in foreign countries are also very expensive and not at all hesitant to demand payment on the spot. In addition, many European countries now require you to show proof of health insurance before they will admit you into the country. And your provincial government health card won’t do it as the coverage limits are too low.

Most European countries will require travel insurance that covers at least €30,000. That is well above medical coverage limits in many American policies that tend to concentrate their benefits on lost baggage, trip interruptions, and cancellations. Fewer than 10 per cent of American travel insurance policies cover primarily “medical” costs, whereas Canadian travel insurers concentrate heavily on coverage of medical costs, and their limits are $1 million and up.

Related: Trip Insurance for a European Summer: You Need It

Health care systems worldwide are under intense pressure to hold costs down and find additional sources of revenue. The UK, for example, is getting serious about cracking down on foreign visitors and migrants who soak up close to £2 billion of “free” medical and hospital services each year, and then skip the country without paying.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt estimates that last year, about £500 million of the lost revenue was thought to be recoverable, yet the NHS managed to “claw back” less than £73 million. Consequently, he told British media that starting this fall the NHS would start paying hospitals to check up on patients’ immigration or visitor status and claim back the costs of services provided those who are ineligible for coverage. He said hospitals will receive an extra 25 per cent “premium” to “incentivize” them for their efforts.

Mr. Hunt said, “Independent research suggests there is about half a billion quid [pounds] in money we should be collecting from international visitors who use the NHS… We only collect around 16 percent of that. We need to be much better at collecting that revenue.”

Mr. Hunt told the Daily Mail that the new payments will initially relate only to administrative checks on visitors from the European Economic Area, but will later be extended worldwide to claw back more of the £500 billion that could ultimately be recovered.

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