Travel insurance has some benefits that are similar to health insurance, but it is not the same.
Health insurance defrays the cost of regular medical care, emergency medical treatment, medicine and other medical-related costs inside your health insurance network. Every health insurance plan is different and if you get your health insurance through your employer, that employer has negotiated the terms, including how far the network of coverage applies. Health insurance is continual coverage as long as the plan premiums are paid, and it can be extended under COBRA rules for some time after you are no longer working for the company.
There are two types of plans that include health insurance-like coverage:
Vacation plans with coverage for emergency medical care, and
Travel medical plans that deliver health insurance benefits over a period of time.
We’ll explain more about how each of these works in the following sections.
Health Insurance Coverage with a Travel Insurance Vacation Plan
A vacation plan (also called a package plan) with emergency medical coverage provides payment for the treatment of medical emergencies, unexpected illnesses (not due to pre-existing medical conditions), and even emergency medical transportation.
If you’re traveling domestically, your travel insurance plan will be secondary to your health insurance coverage, which means you’ll make a claim on your health insurance plan first and the remainder will be paid by your travel insurance plan (up to the plan limits). This is a great way for travelers to cover big medical bills when they’re outside their health insurance network, but you must verify that the plan includes medical coverage inside your home country.
If you’re traveling abroad, your travel insurance plan will typically be your primary plan because most U.S.-based health insurance plans stop at the border. This means you’ll make your claim for reimbursement or payment directly with your travel insurance provider. This is the best way for travelers going outside their health insurance network to have coverage where they would otherwise be at the mercy of the local government or their credit card limits.
Health Insurance Coverage with a Travel Medical Plan
A travel medical plan can include coverage for emergency medical treatment, but there are also long-term plans that cover a traveler for routine medical care, prescription drugs, and more. You can get travel medical plans to cover individual trips, multi-trip travel plans, and long-term travel. A travel medical plan is ideal for frequent business travelers, expats, those living abroad for work, students, etc.
The long-term travel medical insurance plans are ideal for when a traveler is working abroad or traveling continually and wants to protect their health and have coverage for medical emergencies. Some of these plans offer coverage for dependents, include dental care as well as routine medical check-ups, vaccinations, etc. similar to health insurance. Most require that you have the coverage for at least a year before some of the long-term benefits like coverage for pregnancy, dental, etc. are allowed. In short, there’s a long waiting period to get access to some benefits.
Some travel medical plans include coverage within your home country – for short visits – but most coverage ends as soon as you re-enter your home country so you’ll need to have a health insurance plan when you return home.
While many travel insurance plans deliver health insurance-like coverage for the duration of the travel plan, it’s not 100% health insurance unless you take out long-term travel medical coverage.