US Health Care “Reform” Won’t Change Need for Travel Insurance

If you have been reading or watching the debate about US health care reform recently (and it’s been hard to avoid), don’t assume this is going to diminish your need for travel insurance—to or from the United States.

For Americans looking for protection travelling abroad, or foreigners planning extended winter trips in the US, the need for substantial health coverage will remain a top priority.

Even if a public, Canadian-style government health plan is implemented for uninsured Americans (which is a long shot), it’s not going to be available to foreigners. And it certainly won’t force the prices international insurers pay for health services down. It will more than likely hike those prices up.

And for Americans hoping for relief from high health care costs, out-of-country travel coverage is not in the cards in any reform package. Even now, government-run Medicare does not cover medical care received abroad (although some of the supplemental private plans that most Medicare beneficiaries buy do offer some coverage).

Increasingly, American hospitals are requiring international travellers to put up substantial deposits in advance of emergency medical treatment—even if they have travel insurance.

And for Canadians planning to spend their 2009/10 winter season in the US sunbelt, expect more scrutiny of your travel insurance if you need emergency care in an American hospital. And expect to be asked to put some money down. You will also be required to sign that you are ultimately responsible for your hospital bills, which means that if your insurer is slow in paying, or denies your claim for some reason, you may be at the unpleasant end of threats from professional claims collectors.

Travelling without insurance is reckless. Buying travel insurance is a serious business that requires you to examine your policy, question its limitations and exclusions, answer all health questions truthfully, and take any assurance that you are “covered for everything” with a grain of salt. Nobody is covered for everything. Know what you are buying. Travelling with a policy number given to you over the phone is not good enough. Get your documentation, and keep it next to your passport. And if you don’t have a passport, shame on you.

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