Health coverage for foreigners traveling in the US

So one critical point about travel insurance for foreign travelers in the US is it’s not healthy insurance as the (bonkers Kafkaesque) US health care system understands it.

So when (as happened to my brother many years when he fell and hurt his arm) you was treated as an uninsured individual, and received a huge bill (much larger than his insurance company would have paid, if you did have US health insurance, because, again, the US healthcare system is bonkers and evil.) He then had to go to his travel insurance company to get reimbursed.

This was 10-15 years ago and came to 1000-2000 bucks for an ER visit. The same thing happened to me in Croatia and the result (without health insurance as I hadn’t filled in my E111* ) for exactly the same treatment was a bill of 75 bucks.

    • E111 is the shared health insurance British people use to have with the rest of the EU. It was exactly what is described in the OP, whereby the NHS will treat EU travelers in exchange for the rest of EU treating British people. It is no longer a thing post Brexit of course :frowning:

You can no longer just ‘pop back’ to get patched up by the Health Service, if you are no longer resident - at least, if you do, you will be billed for treatment.

If you are fairly young and have no pre-existing health conditions, yes. If you are older (over 75?) and have some history like hypertension and arthritis, the charges get multiplied logarithmically.

I’ve got travel insurance many times. They never ask any questions about health, just the ages of the people covered, and the travel destination.

This is very different from, say, life insurance where they always do ask health questions.

They expect you to disclose anything that may affect the premium. If, for example, you had a heart attack and it was found that you already suffered from hypertension, they would decline to pay for treatment.

My mother will be 85 this month, with the long lost of maladies of age. Her insurance was about CAD$40/day for a 4.5 month stay in Florida.

Travel health insurance invariably covers medical evacuation, because this will usually cost the insurer less than providing care for a sustained period in a foreign country. Once your insurer gets you home, it has no further responsibility for the costs of your medical treatment, so they tend to get you home as fast as possible.

But how likely, really, is it for a reasonably healthy person to need medical care in any given 2-week timeframe?

As likely as during any other two-week timeframe. Most people won’t. but some will, and it’s the risk that you will that insurance exists to protect against.

How likely is it that my house will burn down during my lifetime? Not likely at all, statistically speaking, but if it did it would be problem, so I have fire insurance.

Insurance is about managing risk. Can I afford a $5000 broken wrist? Sure. Can I afford a $1M ICU stay after a stroke? Not so much.

Yes, “managing risk”. It’s something most of us are not very good at. The classic example is that many of us worry about plane travel, but happily climb into a car to get to the airport.

When we are on vacation we often do things that we don’t normally do at home. Swim in the sea; drive on unfamiliar roads (sometimes on the different side); drink more than usual; expose ourselves to the sun; the list goes on.

Illness and injury away from home have more impact on our lives than the same thing at home. The potentially high cost of treatment and possible cost of ambulance transport home is something that can be managed through insurance.

Just an anecdote that is more or less relevant to the discussion: a few years ago while we were living in Indonesia, my husband was considering taking a position, based in Indonesia, with an Australian company. I was working as an independent consultant at the time so we were both covered by his health insurance, provided through the American firm he was then working for, which offered worldwide coverage.

A major reason he did not end up taking the job with the Australian firm was the health insurance offered. It was generally pretty comprehensive, but it specifically excluded anything but emergency care in the US. The expectation was that anyone who fell ill/was injured in the United States would go to Australia ASAP for continuing care.

Being American citizens, we figured that if something befell us in the United States, we’d want to stay there for treatment, not transfer to Australia, a country whose health services we were unfamiliar with. And as Americans, we were highly likely to travel to the US once or twice a year to visit family and friends. So for us, the terms of the health insurance offered were just too risky.

Oh, about as likely as you are to need to make a travel insurance claim for the non refundable villa you had booked for April 2020 because of an unforseen global pandemic*. It’s not just (but sometimes is) about medical bills.

*the last time I claimed on my travel insurance.

Being on holiday or otherwise travelling isn’t just any given two week period. Chances you will get ill or have an accident are significantly higher.

People tend to do riskier things, are in unfamiliar places, eating less controlled food, driving more and in unfamiliar places. Greater chance of exposure to novel (to you) diseases. It is astounding how many people have issues travelling.

If you travel for two weeks every year, that might add up over your adult lifetime to close to two years. Would you feel comfortable taking a two year holiday from medical insurance. After all how likely really is it that a reasonably healthy person will need medical care in any given two year timeframe? It isn’t any different. But our minds are bad at odds.

Count me as one of the stupid ones. As I mentioned, I drove across the USA a few times, even on a motorcycle several times in my 20’s, with no health insurance. I visited the USA regularly and it never occurred to me to get health insurance until I was in my 40’s.
There’s what’s known as the kamikaze defense - go ahead and sue, I don’t have anything. Now that I have hundreds of thousands in retirement savings, plus a house, that debt deterrence is less applicable; particularly, nowadays a catastrophic medical event in the USA could cost all that and more. Even though I’m over 60 and never spent a night in the hospital, nor have I ever had a broken bone or serious illness.

My stepmother told me of British friends of hers whose offspring, being British citizens emmigrated to America, found that it was cheaper to go back to Britain from the USA than to pay for a birth in America. I suppose one interesting downside is that unless the parents are naturalized Americans already, the child will not be American with all the paperwork and hassle that ensues to sort it out.

Canadian health care is similar. If you’ve been out of the country for more than 6 (?) months you have to wait a certain amount of time (3 months?) before you’re covered. Unless you are 65 or older, in which case you would be covered immediately, a concession to the “snowbirds” who winter in the southern USA. They don’t want the hassle that a problem or a bad storm might delay someone the extra day returning to Canada and then they have no coverage. However, my father who had resided in the USA for two decades would have been covered the moment we could get him back across the border. OTOH, he paid handsomely into the system for all hi adult life, and was still paying Canadian taxes on his considerable pension. (Although that has nothing to do with eligibility).

I’m in the US - and I don’t buy travel insurance for the medical coverage. I don’t really need to - my regular health insurance covers me world-wide and has “participating providers” in many countries. I don’t really buy it for cancellation coverage, because none of my vacations are that expensive and it doesn’t matter to my finances whether or not I actually go on that vacation I paid for. I buy it for really only one reason - emergency evacuation.

I have a colleague who did just this. Persuaded her US company to let her move back to the UK and start an offshoot of the company in order to have children. The more generous rules around maternity leave also swung it. Her husband is American so the passport issue wasn’t an issue for the child.

I’m a Statesian and don’t travel without travel insurance. Last time I was in Spain, 6 pilgrims I met there got COVID, some quite severely. Even for the ones who had mild cases, the costs of treatment, hotel for quarantine, and food/pharmacy deliveries added up over 10+ days.

‘Covid cover’ is an optional extra on a lot of policies. When I traveled to France in September 2020, standard travel insurance providers wouldn’t cover anything to do with it (either medical care or trip cancellations), so I ended up using a specialist insurer that in normal times insured people travelling to dangerous countries/war zones/space travel (!), such as journalists (Battleface)

Covid gave them a gap in the market. Still only cost about £100.

Yeah, you have to read the policies carefully, but I think the cost is well worth it compared to hopin’ and prayin’.