If you have domestic health insurance (such as Kaiser, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Medicare or United Healthcare), you may be wondering whether that healthcare plan will cover you while you're abroad. Unfortunately, this isn't possible. This is where visitors insurance, otherwise referred to as travel medical insurance, makes all the difference
What Does U.S. Domestic Healthcare Cover?
U.S. domestic health insurance plans are meant only for U.S. citizens, residents or legal workers, and their immediate family members residing in the United States. If a U.S. resident with a domestic health insurance policy were to leave the country, their domestic health insurance would no longer offer any medical or financial protections
What is Visitors Insurance?
Visitors to the United States need a specific kind of travel insurance known, fittingly, as visitors insurance (though this can also sometimes be referred to as international travel medical insurance). These insurance plans can help you and your loved ones stay safe while you’re away from your home country. Whether you're in a different country for tourism purposes or for business, visitors insurance gives visitors to the U.S. and other international travelers peace of mind, knowing that they will be covered while they're away from home.
Visitors aren't eligible for benefits on these plans. Why don't domestic health insurance companies sell travel medical insurance? Let us explore some basic differences between domestic health insurance and travel health insurance.
Differences Between Domestic Health Insurance and Visitors Insurance
1. US Social Security number / ITIN number required for domestic health plans
A valid Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) number, issued by the U.S. government, is required to qualify for domestic health plans. Visitors to the U.S. are not eligible for domestic insurance policies because they won't have either of these. Therefore, they must purchase visitors insurance to be covered for medical expenses in the U.S.
2. Domestic health insurance companies don't sell travel insurance plans
The reason domestic health insurance companies don't cover visitors health insurance is because it's not cost-effective for them to cater to a small segment of visitors.
3. Visitors health insurances are temporary
Visitors insurance is temporary and can cover you for a minimum period of 5 days to a maximum period of 3 years. On the other hand, domestic health insurance policies can provide coverage from 1 month up to 65 years.
4. Costs are less and benefits fewer for visitors insurance plans
For visitors insurance, the costs, benefits and variety of plans are much less compared to the domestic insurance plans. Visitors health insurance offers international coverage, while most domestic plans don't cover international travel. Moreover, there's no age restriction on visitors insurance, while domestic policies can be purchased for only up to 65 years.
5. Coverage starts immediately after the purchase of visitors insurance plans
In the case of visitors insurance, coverage starts immediately after purchase, with no wait for approval. With domestic insurance, there's a longer waiting period, and it's also subject to approval.
6. Pre-existing condition coverage rarely available for visitors insurance plans
With very few exceptions, travel health insurance usually doesn't cover any pre-existing conditions, while most domestic group plans do cover pre-existing conditions. It's not cost effective for insurance companies to offer coverage for pre-existing conditions for short term customers. Fortunately, ChoiceAmerica, a travel insurance plan for visitors to the United States, does offer a pre-existing condition rider that can be added on to their basic plans.
7. Travel health insurance plans are not restricted to any provider network
Visitors insurance plans allow you to visit any doctor or hospital, as these are not restricted to a specific network. Domestic plans, on the other hand, offer less coverage if you visit hospitals or doctors outside the network.
8. Billing process depends on individual doctor or hospital for visitors health insurance plans
Domestic Insurance plan holders must seek medical treatment from doctors or hospitals covered within the provider network. For VisitorsCoverage, the billing process usually depends on the individual hospital or doctor that the patient visits. They could either send the bill directly to the insurance company or ask the patient to pay upfront. If the medical facility asks you to pay them, then you must first pay the amount for the services and later file a claim with the insurance company. The insurance company will reimburse you with your expenses.
Travel medical insurance works differently from domestic health insurance plans. Thus, it's important for visitors to purchase a visitors health insurance plan when visiting the U.S. or visiting some other country from the United States.
Why Should You Buy Travel Insurance?
Travel insurance may be required
As we cope with the reality of travel in the era of COVID-19, purchasing travel insurance is more necessary than ever. Many countries require travelers to get travel insurance. If you plan to visit Aruba or Costa Rica, for example, you'll need travel insurance that complies with local regulations.
Most travel insurance policies cover Covid and accompanying medical treatment if it is contracted during the policy's active period.
Emergency medical evacuation
One of the most essential benefits of travel medical insurance is emergency evacuation; this is a must-have coverage when traveling outside of your home country. A medical evacuation in an emergency can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Say you're on a Bahamas cruise when you have a stroke. You may need to be flown off the ship to the nearest hospital if the onboard medical facility is insufficient to handle your illness. Without travel insurance, you'd have to pay those expensive charges out of pocket.