Which makes sense to you -- spending $300 for travel health insurance before a trip or $30,000 in medical expenses afterward?
Travel insurance is an area many neglect when planning vacations because they don't know their health insurance has limitations.
Travelers should not assume that their regular health-insurance policies will cover illnesses or medical emergencies anywhere they go -- be it in the United States or in foreign countries.
Knowing whether your health-insurance policy offers any kind of travel benefits could be critical.
Some health-maintenance organizations' plans work principally in your immediate area; others have reciprocal rights with medical institutions in other states.
Medicare, the national health-insurance program for those 65 and older, and younger people with disabilities, has a complex set of rules about when it will pay outside the United States.
Generally, if you plan to travel outside the United States, don't count on Medicare to pay for hospital and/or medical services, advises the Health Care Financing Administration, the federal agency that supervises Medicare.
If you plan to do a lot of traveling after you retire, consider supplemental Medigap plans that have foreign travel benefits. These plans will cover medically necessary emergency care at 80 percent of the bill charged for Medicare-eligible emergency hospital and doctor costs for an illness that begins during the first 60 days of your trip. (For more information, call the Health Care Financing Administration, 800-633-4227, or visit their Web sites: www.medicare.gov or www.hcfa.gov
In addition to Medigap plans, there are also supplemental insurance policies for retirees available through former employers, and health-maintenance organization policies.
Other options? Ask your travel agent about a short-term medical policy. Often you can buy one along with trip-cancellation insurance. The price of such policies is geared to your age, and the cost and length of your trip. Also check with your health-insurance carrier. If your policy doesn't cover travel, ask about adding a short-term plan.
For example, Travel Insurance Services of Walnut Creek, Calif., sells policies for $3.25 a day or about $100 a month for travelers through age 69. These policies can provide up to $25,000 for treatment and hospitalization; up to $50,000 for emergency medical evacuation, with a deductible of $50 per illness or incident.
Such policies can be purchased for periods from one day to a year, said Kathy Barlow, of Travel Insurance Services, and include translation services and repatriation of remains if a death occurs.
For more details on Travel Insurance Services, see its Web site, www.travelinsure.com, or call 800-937-1387.
Access America, a division of World Access Service Corp. in New York, also sells travel protection policies. Travelers can have the pre-existing conditions exclusion waived in Access America products if they purchase coverage within 14 days of their initial trip deposit.
Under the company's Travel with Ease for Cruises and Tours policy, the under-55 traveler would pay $76 for a trip that costs $2,001 to $2,500. Travelers from 56 to 70 years would pay $109; age 71 to 80, $145; and 81 and older, $250.
For more details about Access America policies, call 800-284-8300; www.accessamerica.com.
Health insurance for travelers should cover emergency medical care and evacuation, with no exclusions for prior illnesses, advises Dr. William Mason, an otolaryngologist, who founded Cruise Secure with his wife, Shelley.
Cruise Secure uses Travel Guard insurance products for its clients. For example, if a seven-day cruise with land tours costs $3,000, the traveler could buy a insurance policy for $199. It would cover medical problems, emergency evacuation and trip cancellation. The policy would cover up to $10,000 in medical expenses, and air evacuation up to $20,000.
You can learn more about Cruise Secure at the Web site, www.cruisesecure.com, or by calling 888-627-6644.