Health Insurance

Can I Use My Health Insurance While Traveling?

Mira Research Team
Mira Research Team8 Jul 2023


  1. Different types of health insurance, such as HMOs, PPOs, POS, and EPOs, have varying levels of healthcare access, particularly during travel. Understanding your insurance policy's provisions, especially concerning emergencies and out-of-network costs, is crucial for managing healthcare while traveling.
  2. Preparation for travel should include notifying your insurance provider, establishing a healthcare proxy, organizing prescription medications, and keeping important health information accessible. Additionally, consider travel insurance for financial protection against unexpected health emergencies during your journey.
  3. The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover emergency room visits, regardless of network affiliation. However, out-of-network services can significantly increase out-of-pocket costs. The claiming process can be complicated, hence understanding this procedure before traveling can help manage unexpected costs efficiently.
  4. While traveling, ensure you have ample insurance coverage. If traveling internationally or for an extended period domestically, consider additional health coverage options, such as Mira, or purchase travel insurance that covers emergency medical needs and potential trip disruptions.

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What Type of Health Insurance Do You Have?

A common concern among insured millennials is the question of accessibility to healthcare services while traveling, especially for those who do not have health insurance. This concern is elevated when one considers the complexities associated with different insurance types such as Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs), Point of Service (POS), and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO).

Insurance TypeDescriptionAccessibility During Travel
HMOPopular among millennials due to lower premiums. HMOs cover care only within a specific network of healthcare providers.Limited accessibility to healthcare services when traveling, especially overseas, due to its network-centric model. Emergency services are an exception but only under specific conditions.
PPOOffers a higher degree of flexibility and includes a wide range of providers, enabling insured individuals to access healthcare services within and outside the network.Higher accessibility to healthcare services during travel, even overseas, due to a wider network. Out-of-network services might incur higher costs but can be advantageous in a medical emergency overseas.
POSProvides a hybrid approach allowing insured individuals to choose, at the point of service, between an HMO or a PPO styled coverage.The accessibility depends on the chosen coverage type at the point of service. It could offer high flexibility (PPO style) or be limited (HMO style) during travel.
EPOEPO plans offer a broader network than HMOs but do not cover outside the network, similar to HMOs.Limited accessibility to out-of-network healthcare services while traveling. EPOs might be restrictive if one requires out-of-netwo

HMO - Health Maintenance Organizations 

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are a popular choice among millennials due to their lower premiums. However, they can pose challenges during travel due to their restrictive nature. HMOs typically cover care only within a specific network of healthcare providers. As a result, individuals insured under HMOs may be limited in terms of accessible healthcare services when traveling, especially overseas. Emergency services are an exception, but it's essential to understand what constitutes an emergency within the purview of HMOs. An unplanned medical situation causing substantial pain or fear of serious impairment of bodily functions qualifies as an emergency.

PPO - Preferred Provider Organizations

In contrast to HMOs, Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) offer a higher degree of flexibility. According to a report by the American Association of Preferred Provider Organizations, PPOs include a wide range of providers, allowing insured individuals access to healthcare services both within and outside a specified network.. Although out-of-network services typically incur higher costs, these additional costs bear advantage in an overseas medical situation.

PPO & EPO - Point of Service and Exclusive Provider Organization

Point of Service (POS) and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) insurance plans strike a balance between HMOs and PPOs. POS plans offer a hybrid approach, allowing insured individuals to choose, point of service, between an HMO or a PPO styled coverage, thus enabling them to make decisions based on immediate healthcare needs. EPO plans, akin to PPOs, offer a broader network than HMOs but do not cover outside the network, similar to HMOs. EPOs can thus be limiting if one requires out-of-network care while traveling.

Understanding Health Insurance Coverage for Emergencies during Travel 

The Definition of an “Emergency” in the Context of Health Insurance

Every insurance policy has its definition of what constitutes an "emergency." Most often, emergencies pertain to severe, acute conditions that require immediate medical attention, like heart attacks, fractures, or severe bleeding. Some also include acute illnesses like pneumonia or serious respiratory infections. It's crucial for the insured individual to understand their policy's particular definition of an emergency, as this will determine the treatments and services that insurance will cover.

The Costs of Out-of-Network Services during Travel

For insured individuals, potential out-of-pocket costs can increase significantly when accessing healthcare services out of network, predominantly during travel. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), almost 18% of emergency department visits involving insured individuals led to at least one out-of-network charge. It underscores the importance for travelers to develop an understanding of their insurance policy’s out-of-network policies and any potential costs involved.

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The Claim Procedure for Insured Travelers

The process of making health insurance claims while traveling can become somewhat complicated and may vary from one insurer to another. Typically, the insured individual might have to pay upfront for the medical service and then submit necessary documents like medical records and receipts to their insurer for reimbursement. The reimbursement processes often involve multiple steps and can be time-consuming. Therefore, having prior knowledge of this procedure can help insured travelers manage unexpected medical costs efficiently during their trip.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Influence on Travel Health Coverage

The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has ushered in important changes, including affecting the way health insurers handle travel coverage. With ACA, all health insurance issuers are required to cover any emergency room visits like an in-network visit, regardless of whether the hospital is within their network or not. Thus, ACA has lowered the medical cost burdens for insured travelers. Nevertheless, insured individuals should thoroughly review their policy's terms and conditions to understand fully the scope of their coverage while traveling.

Key Preparations Before Traveling

Notify Your Insurance Company Prior to Travel

Preparation is crucial when planning a trip, and one key aspect is timely notification of your insurance company. It is essential to inform your health insurance provider of your travel plans. This action not only reduces the chances of your provider denying claims for unexpected healthcare expenses but also ensures you get the appropriate coverage needed based on your destination. According to research conducted by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, about 30% of American tourists fail to inform their providers of their travel plans, potentially jeopardizing their chances of claims approval. Therefore, it's recommended that you discuss your trip with your insurer to understand exactly what is covered, particularly if traveling abroad.

Establishing a Healthcare Proxy when Traveling

Evaluating the need for a healthcare proxy while traveling is fundamental and not often considered. A healthcare proxy is a legal document that designates someone you trust to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make them yourself. Having one is especially significant during trips as you may find yourself in a situation where you are incapable of communicating your health care preferences. According to LegalZoom, designating a healthcare proxy ensures your healthcare wishes are met even when you can't articulate them personally. Therefore, it's advisable to consider having one before getting on that plane.

How to Prepare Your Prescription Medications

Preparation for prescription medications is essential before traveling. Make sure you have enough refills to last your entire trip and understand the legal implications of carrying prescribed drugs abroad. Some medications that are legal in your home country may be illegal in other countries. Data from the International Narcotics Control Board show that more than 20,000 individuals are detained abroad each year due to drug-related offenses, many of which involve prescription medications. Therefore, researching the legal status of your prescription drugs in your destination country will help you avoid legal hassles.

Keep Pertinent Health Information at Hand

It's crucial to carry pertinent health information while traveling. This can include your medical history, allergies, previous surgeries, and current treatments. Providing such information can be critical in case of any health emergencies. As stated by The American College of Emergency Physicians, quick access to health information can speed up diagnosis and treatment while reducing medical errors.

Travel Insurance: A Crucial Extra or Expendable Expense?

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Is Travel Insurance Worth the Cost?

The pertinence of travel insurance is a common question among tourists. In many cases, this coverage can be a vital backup plan, providing financial protection for trip cancellations, interruptions, or unexpected medical emergencies abroad. According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, about 45% of American travelers bought travel insurance in 2019, reflecting an increase in awareness of the potential risks during journeys. Thus, depending on your travel plans and personal risk tolerance, travel insurance could be a sensible investment.

Comparing Different Travel Insurance Plans

Travel insurance coverage varies greatly. Some policies cover basic issues like trip cancellations, while others provide comprehensive coverage, including emergency medical evacuation. According to a comparison study conducted by Squaremouth, comprehensive travel insurance plans tend to be the most popular, accounting for nearly 85% of all policies purchased in 2019. Hence, taking the time to compare different plans will ensure you find a policy that suits your individual needs.

How to Secure a Short-Term Plan

Securing a short-term travel insurance plan is pretty straightforward. Most insurance companies offer these policies, and they can be purchased quickly online. However, it's advisable to buy your policy ahead of time, particularly if it includes pre-departure benefits like trip cancellation coverage. According to a report by Insure My Trip, about 90% of travelers who purchase comprehensive policies do so within a week of making their initial trip payment. Therefore, getting your travel insurance plan at the right time is a critical aspect of your overall travel planning.


Frequently Asked Questions about Health Insurance When Traveling Abroad

Can I use my health insurance internationally?

The upfront answer is that it depends on your health insurance plan. Some insurance plans do not cover health care outside your home country or certain regions. Under some U.S. health insurance plans, benefits are limited when you're outside the U.S. For example, Medicare generally does not cover health care while you're traveling outside the U.S. However, some other insurance plans may cover "out-of-network" hospitals or doctors, but you may need to pay more out-of-pocket.

What do I do if I fall sick in a foreign country?

The first point of call should be to contact the local health hotline or embassy. They can provide information regarding local hospitals and book appropriate medical appointments if necessary. If you have travel insurance, it may cover urgent or ambulance care. If your health insurance doesn't cover you overseas, you may want to consider purchasing a separate travel insurance policy that does.

Is my child covered under my health insurance while traveling?

Children are generally covered under their parent's insurance policy when traveling, but the coverage will depend on the specific plan and whether the plan is a domestic or international one. Some policies cover children for free, while others require an additional premium. Always properly scrutinize your policy, including the fine print, to understand what coverage your children have when traveling.

If I need medical evacuation, will my regular insurance cover it?

Medical evacuation, also known as MedEvac, can be very expensive, and the costs are not always covered by regular health insurance. You might pay between $30,000 to $100,000 for a medical evacuation. Although MedEvac coverage is included in some comprehensive travel insurance plans, you may have to purchase a specific supplement for this coverage. Always consult with your insurance provider to clarify what they cover before traveling.

Mira Research Team

The Mira Research team conducts original data and medical research on the most applicable topics of today and translates them into easy-to-understand articles to educate the public. Each of our articles is carefully reviewed and curated with interviews and opinions from medical experts, public health officials, and experienced administrators. The team has educational backgrounds from New York University, the University of Virginia, more.