Medical Travel and Your Insurance (or Lack Thereof)

Many people who decide that medical travel is the best way to seek treatment simply don't have insurance. If they're going to pay for surgery or another procedure out of pocket, they might as well pay less overseas, and they might even be excited at the prospect of traveling with medical tourism in mind.

Medical tourism can still be a viable option even for those who do have medical insurance. For example, some insurance plans aren't sufficient to bring the out-of-pocket costs as low as what the procedure would cost in another country. There are a few insurance companies that limit the types of procedures they will cover, and some won't pay for any cosmetic or dental work at all. In other cases, an out-of-country procedure makes more sense because the physicians or hospital are more experienced in that type of medical treatment, or offer cutting-edge treatments or shorter waiting times.

Either way, your insurance (or lack thereof) can play a major part in whether or not medical travel is right for you.

Medical Tourism Insurance Options
Fortunately, there are several medical insurance plans worldwide that are jumping on the medical tourism bandwagon, especially since it has become so popular in America, Europe and Australia. Some insurance carriers will cover medical travel as well as treatment in one's home country, while others provide medical travel insurance as a separate package.
Medical insurance carriers that work with employers as well as private citizens are also offering medical travel insurance to customers. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, for example, has partnered with Companion Global Healthcare to offer discounts for medical tourism. Similarly, OptiMed Health/United Group Programs has pioneered a unique medical travel insurance program that encompasses everything from the medical procedure to travel and other expenses.

Not surprisingly, medical tourism is a boon not only for the individual, but also for insurance companies. They can provide the same service to their clients, but for a much smaller price, and some insurance carriers even encourage it.

Determining Your Costs & Coverage
Even if you have medical travel insurance that will cover a medical procedure in another country, you must consider the big picture. For example, what will your deductible be and what services aren't covered under the plan? You don't want to travel to India only to discover that the anesthesiologist for your surgery isn't covered.

You must also consider the other expenses associated with traveling abroad. You'll have to book airfare, perhaps rent a car and maybe even book a hotel room during your recovery period. Some insurance companies will pay for part or all of these expenses, but you'll need to check with your carrier before making a decision.

Even without medical travel insurance, however, medical tourism can still be within your means. Aaron Baker, a financial consultant from Houston, failed to renew his private medical insurance in early 2007. When he discovered that he needed to have his gallbladder removed, he learned that the procedure at a local Houston hospital would cost him around $28,000. After conducting some research online, he found a hospital in India that would perform the procedure for a little more than $7,000, so he made the trip.

In November of 2007, ABC News reported a story on Kevin Stewart, a man who desperately needed a liver transplant. The surgery in the United States would set him back $330,000, an expense he simply couldn't afford as a freelance landscape architect with no health insurance. Frustrated, he looked to medical tourism and found a very capable surgeon in India who performed the procedure successfully for just $60,000.

The most important thing is that you look at all of your options objectively before making a decision. Medical travel is possible for many patients, with or without insurance, and you won't know until you explore the options available to you.

Travel Insurance
Separate from health insurance considerations, the medical tourist (or anyone considering extended travel) ought to consider purchasing travel insurance. To be clear, as opposed to health or medical insurance which is designed to address the costs of planned medical treatment (think Blue Cross / Blue Shield in the United States), travel insurance covers unexpected, emergency care (e.g. if you slip in the hotel tub and break your wrist). A typical policy covers emergency medical services, medical and security evacuation and assistance services, accidental death and dismemberment, and specified other hazards and expenses. MedEx Global Group, for example, offers TravMed Choice medical travel insurance covering up to $50,000 in expenses with a $250 deductible, quoting prices starting at $2/day. They offer separate add-ons that can cover things like expenses for accompanying travelers and accidental death insurance. AIG Travel Guard offers a similar insurance plan, called Worldwide Health, which covers up to $1 million in medical expenses overseas.

Even more unique, the International Medical Group offers an insurance plan called Patriot Group Travel Medical Insurance, which covers medical travel for groups and organizations. There must be at least five people going to the same overseas facility. Expenses up to $2 million will be covered.

Next article: Is Medical Travel Right for Me?