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Travel Insurance: Is It Necessary?

Nov 5, 2007
So you want to leave the homeland for a while, see the sights, take the pictures, or perhaps, do some business. You've packed the swimming trunks, the extra layers, the hiking boots, the sun screen, but the question remains: is your medical insurance traveling with you? What happens if you get to Brazil like you always wanted to, and then, in a freak spilled mojito accident, you break your ankle? What if the escargot from that charming Parisian restaurant reacts badly with your American digestive system, and you are suddenly in the throes of the worst food poisoning you've experienced in your life? It is no small matter; according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one half of US travelers heading to another country will experience some sort of health problem while abroad.

Ever since the Michael Moore film, "Sicko," came out, we all know that many other countries (well, specifically France, Canada, and Cuba) provide affordable, sometimes free, healthcare to their citizens, but how does it work for us, Americans, abroad? Well, the truth is, unless you make special preparations, the outlook is not good. According to www.worldwidemedical.com, "most US insurance companies, HMOs, PPOs or Medicare [plans] do not provide adequate medical insurance." There may be exceptions, and you should look into the fine print of your plan, but every major US health insurance providers suggests getting some form of traveler's insurance. Unfortunately, there is no foreign country that provides free health care for travelers.

Travel insurance plans provide three types of coverage: for medical care when abroad, the cost of emergency medical evacuation, and reimbursement for sudden trip cancellations and lost luggage.

Should you require medical attention while abroad, most insurance companies provide support in the form of emergency hotlines. They will advise you on the best hospitals in the area, as well as the ins and outs of the local systems. It is strongly advised that, if possible, you consult your provider before seeking medical attention in a foreign land. Also, insurance providers warn that most third world countries' hospital systems require payment upfront for services rendered. This fee would be reimbursed by the plan.

The most pressing concern is the case of an emergency medical evacuation from a foreign country back to the US. Evacuations are necessary when a very serious medical condition arises, and the traveler/patient must be transported back to the care of his/her primary care physician or a home-based expert. This can cost upwards of $10,000 as it is a coordinated effort between several hospitals and at least one airline. Most travel insurance plans provide the option for specific coverage for this contingency.

Another aspect to consider when traveling abroad, is the cost of sudden cancellations, or changes in travel plans as a result of medical or other emergencies. In an era when airline companies are logging record numbers of lost luggage, this aspect of travelers insurance provides reimbursement for the purchase of clothes and other necessities. In this sense, you could come out a winner: imagine an 'emergency' shopping trip at the fabulous designer stores of Milan.

So, whether you are planning a road trip to Canada, or a fourteen day hike in Machu Pichu, pack some warm socks, swim trunks, and your new friend, Mr. Traveler's Insurance.
About the Author
Pucher Insurance: Providers of health insurance, travel medical insurance and group travel insurance for Canadians traveling abroad and visitors medical insurance for non-Canadians who visit Canada.
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