Traveling? How to Get Supplemental Coverage


You’re finally ready for your bucket list trip to the magnificent City of Lights, Paris. You’ve purchased airline tickets, check; wardrobe selection, check; a list of top attractions, check; online dining reservations, check. Chances are, though, you probably haven’t checked your health insurance policy. In fact, many Americans don’t know their health insurance may not cover their trip abroad. Several private insurers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid programs, do not cover medical treatment outside of the country.

In a recent article published by Consumer Reports, it’s estimated that “15 percent of travelers encounter some kind of medical problem on their journey.” These illnesses and injuries abroad can result in an overwhelming financial burden. Medical evacuation from a foreign country, alone, can cost as much as $100,000. It’s important to add proper health insurance coverage to your vacation planning.

Travel health insurance is a short-term supplemental policy, specifically-designed to cover costs associated with receiving healthcare abroad. These are some scenarios that might occur resulting in needed coverage:

–        You’re on a business trip and develop a severe case of pneumonia requiring hospitalization.

–        You trip up The Spanish Steps in Rome and break a tooth.

–        You get into a fender bender.

–        Your church is planning a mission trip to Haiti. Travel to an area where the U.S. Department of State has issued travel warnings requires supplemental coverage.


Customizable coverage for medical (and dental) expenses. Various policies provide the traveler with an opportunity to select a maximum benefit range. Additionally, plans are available for frequent travelers that can even include medical reimbursement in the event non-emergency scenarios.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment. In the event of loss of life of limb during the defined travel period, the insured would receive a lump sum payment.

Emergency medical evacuations/repatriation. In the event of a medical emergency where proper treatment is unavailable abroad, this coverage provides a medically equipped flight to travel home. In the event of loss of life, the travel insurance company handles all necessary plans for returning the traveler’s body to his or her home, or to the funeral home of their choice.

Travel assistance. Twenty-four hour assistance is provided to the insured to cover all help associated with their medical emergency such as, emergency transport, roadside assistance, language translations, and more.


The first step in understanding your coverage needs, is a thorough check of your current policy. Contact your insurance provider to see exactly what coverage you are provided while overseas. If you are covered, it’s important to remember to carry your insurance cards along with a claim form.

Even if your plan includes foreign travel, you may want to consider buying supplemental insurance. For a very economical price, expenses left uncovered by your primary plan, such as deductibles, will be paid, leaving you debt free.


According to their own website, “Medicare doesn’t pay for medical services outside the United States and its territories.” 

The site also lists these four exceptions:

  1.      You’re traveling between Alaska and another state and have a medical emergency that means you must be treated in Canada.
  2.      A medical emergency occurs while you’re in the United States or its territories, but the nearest hospital is in a foreign country — for example, across the border in Canada or Mexico.
  3.      You live within the United States or its territories and need hospital care (regardless of whether it’s an emergency), but the nearest hospital is in a foreign country.
  4.      You’re on a ship that’s within six hours of a U.S. port.

If you have Medicare Advantage, your plan may or may not include medical coverage while out of the country. These plans are not standardized, so it’s important to check your policy for details.

If you’re a senior citizen looking for healthcare coverage during your trip abroad, you’ll want to consider purchasing a supplemental Medigap policy from a private insurer. Seven of the eleven policies offered provide coverage for foreign travel. Plan F provides the most comprehensive coverage to travelers, paying up to $50,000.


Before you set out to find the right coverage, you’ll need to decide which type of plan you’ll require. This depends on how frequently you’ll be traveling. There are generally three groups of plans: 1) Single trip plan – these plans cover one trip for up to six months. 2) Multiple trip plan – these plans cover multiple trips and can be purchased in segments of 3, 6 and 12-month segments. 3) Long-term plans – provide continuous medical coverage for extensive periods of travel

As with selecting any insurance plan, you’ll need to have a good understanding of your policy. What is the exact amount of coverage it provides? What deductibles and co-payments are involved? Are they any exclusions?

Here’s a list of other questions to include when shopping for the best policy:

Is there an arrangement with hospitals to guarantee direct payments?

Is medical evacuation included?

Is there a 24-hour physician-run support center in case of a medical evacuation?

Does the plan cover high risk activities like mountain climbing and scuba diving, if applicable?

Does this policy require pre-authorization or a second opinion?


When Obamacare (ACA) was enacted in 2010, insurance plans could no longer reject you, charge you more, or refuse to pay your health claims for any condition that you had before coverage started. Typical pre-existing conditions such as asthma, depression, acne, and diabetes are all covered under traditional health plans, but before traveling, you should always check with your insurance provider regarding what coverage is available to you when you are traveling outside your state and outside the country.

Supplemental travel insurance plans do not fall under those same guidelines, however, and typically do not cover pre-existing conditions. For this reason, you’ll want to buy a pre-existing condition waiver of that exclusion. Many insurers provide the waiver at no cost if the insurance is purchased within 14 days of the initial trip deposit date. In some cases,  however, you may be required to upgrade your coverage for pre-existing conditions.

According to Travel Insurance Review, “If you are medically stable during the travel insurance plan’s look-back period (this applies to family members and traveling companions as well – anyone who might cause you to have to cancel or interrupt your trip or seek medical care while traveling) then you can qualify for a travel insurance plan or upgrade to cover pre-existing medical conditions”

Special notes to discuss with your insurer:

  • Certain existing medical conditions can be excluded with travel insurance coverage, even with the waiver; check to make sure you’re not purchasing coverage for a condition that can’t be covered.
  • There’s often a cap on trip costs when you’re buying travel insurance with pre-existing medical condition coverage, know those limits.
  • You must be a U.S. resident to buy travel insurance with existing medical condition coverage.

Why? Let’s say you’re overseas when you have a diabetic emergency requiring hospitalization. Without that waiver, your expenses would be totally self-pay. These types of emergencies, when severe, can lead to a medical bankruptcy. It’s wise to pay this small fee to protect your financial assets.


Supplemental travel medical plans are quite economical. Insurance for a single trip will cost between $40 and $80 for a short overseas trip. Precise coverage costing will depend on the following variables:

  •        The length of your trip
  •        The traveler’s age
  •        Medical coverage limits
  •        Evacuation coverage limits

It’s important to keep in mind that most supplemental plans do not include traditional travel insurance. Non-medical travel insurance policies cover trip cancellation, lost luggage and airline accidents. Travelers can consider a more comprehensive travel insurance plan will include both.


Not all insurance companies are the same, it’s important to find a policy from an established and reliable source. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list

of reputable companies that offer traveler’s medical insurance on its website.