No matter where you travel, medical emergencies can be enormously costly, economically as well as emotionally. Even a “heart attack” that turns out to be nothing more than indigestion can absorb thousands of dollars of medical staff and diagnostic costs. Are you prepared to handle it?
It’s not only in the United States that medical costs can run into the thousands of dollars per day—even half a day. Foreign visitors to Canada or Mexico or Cuba or France or Indonesia can also suffer serious medical sticker shock after a morning in the emergency room.
Travel medical insurance can prevent such a shock, but only if you know what you’re buying and you spend a little time examining its benefits and limitations, and understand what your responsibilities under the contract are. I know of many people who will spend months planning a trip costing thousands of dollars, euros or pounds, and then devote no more than half an hour to buying a travel policy. That could be a hugely expensive mistake.
Show up at any hospital or clinic anywhere in the world and either you or your insurer will have to pay for your medical services. Proof of your government insurance will not be persuasive. Neither will an appeal to compassion. And if you don’t pay, there are very sophisticated international collection companies that will pursue you.
In the United States, hospital emergency departments are by federal law required to treat you for any medical emergency whether you are insured or not. But that doesn’t prevent them from pursuing you for payment, or demanding deposits, which more and more hospitals are doing.
Don’t expect governments of the countries you are visiting to pick up the tab for you even if those countries have socialized health care. Those national programs are designed for tax-paying citizens, not for visitors.
In much or Europe, there are reciprocal treaties between countries that allow some coverage for treaty members. But they will not cover non-Europeans. And more and more, countries are strengthening their entry rules to require visitors to have some form of health insurance that will cover them while in that country.
Medical care is expensive all over the world. There are no bargains.