How does the Affordable Care Act affect visitors to the US?

The Affordable Care Act (previously known as Obamacare) was introduced in the United States to lower the cost of healthcare (or provide free healthcare) for lower and middle income individuals. For Americans, it makes healthcare more affordable and accessible. However, visitors to the U.S. remain unaffected by the Affordable Care Act, simply due to the fact that they are not eligible for it. Visitors are, after all, just visiting. Even if you have a family member who is a U.S. citizen, every visitor to America is considered to be on a short-term temporary visit, which means medical care isn’t free. So, it’s incredibly important to purchase your own travel insurance when coming to the United States.


Only U.S. citizens and certain lawfully-presented permanent residents (green card holders) qualify for the federal health insurance program known as the Affordable Care Act. Visitors are responsible for paying for their own medical care, along with any expenses or liabilities that arise from a medical emergency or accident. Essentially, the Affordable Care Act has no effect on visitors to the U.S.

Tourists Visiting the U.S. Need Travel Medical Insurance

Paying for medical care in the U.S. is a challenge because the cost of medical care can be high. If you’re coming to the U.S., you need to have adequate visitors medical insurance with reasonably high limits to ensure that you won’t have to pay a huge medical bill if you or your family member:

  • Gets in a car accident
  • Breaks their arm when slipping off an escalator
  • Has a heart attack
  • Hits a tree while skiing
  • Comes down with pneumonia

Any of these are common accidents and illnesses, and if you don’t have travel medical insurance, you’ll be paying care out of your own pocket (or on your credit card).

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel medical insurance is even more of a necessity. While you and your family can take precautions to reduce your risk of contracting the disease, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re needing medical attention in a foreign country where you have no coverage. There are a number of travel insurance plans that include specific coverage for COVID-19.

Emergency Room Visits are Not Free

In many countries, a trip to the emergency room is free. That’s not the case for the United States. In contrast, in the U.S. a trip to the E.R. may cost tens of thousands of dollars. Because some trips to the emergency room are unavoidable (that’s why they’re called emergencies!), visitors can’t always wait until they’re back home to see a doctor.

If you need emergency medical care and have no insurance, you’ll either have to pay for the expenses out of pocket, or be transported to a welfare-based hospital where patient care resources are limited. Buying emergency medical coverage ahead of time would eliminate both of these situations.

Evacuation Costs Are Expensive

Emergency evacuation (such as by ambulance, by helicopter, or by special medically equipped airplanes) is very expensive. Opting for a policy that covers evacuation could come in very handy during a trip to the U.S.


For example, imagine you and your family are hiking in the Rocky Mountains and your adult son slips and falls. You can’t reach him and he is in desperate need of medical care. In this instance, you’ll need the support of local rangers and an experienced rescue team. Since this is not the financial responsibility of the park rangers, you’ll have to arrange for payment on the spot.

While this situation may seem unlikely, you never know when you might require emergency evacuation. If something were to happen to you that required emergency medical transportation, medical evacuation insurance will allow you to either be taken to the nearest facility that has the resources to treat and care for you, or transport you home if a physician deems the situation fit and medically necessary. This is why choosing a plan with emergency medical transportation is so important.

Your Visa Sponsor Can Be Held Liable for Your Bills

If you’re visiting the U.S. on a sponsored visa and can’t pay your medical bills, your sponsor may be held liable for those bills. This can place the sponsor in jeopardy of losing their visa or being prosecuted by bill collectors. So make sure you are adequately covered by visitors insurance, also known as travel medical insurance.

For additional questions about travel health insurance for the U.S., please reach out to our customer success team.

Disclaimer: Information presented here is high level and for your convenience only, it may not be accurate and may not cover all aspect of the ACA or ObamaCare act. The ACA law is not fully implemented yet, definitions, eligibility etc. are subjective and may vary from state to state. You may contact a qualified licensed health insurance agent in your area to discuss your specific situations and options. You may also write to us at support@visitorscoverage.com.