What is Medical Travel Insurance and when should you pay heed to it

Not everyone buys travel medical insurance when travelling abroad. And they don't know what they are risking by doing so.

Medical Insurance

“The world is your oyster,” they say, and it may well be for an increasing number of Indians vacationing abroad, or, as the Indian Diaspora grows, visiting relatives from overseas. But even as international travel seems to be getting more affordable for many people, not everything about it is reasonably priced. 

Take for example, emergency medical treatment in another country; the impact it can have on your wallet could be more damaging than you expect. 

Enter travel medical insurance

A travel health insurance combines the benefits of travel insurance with medical coverage, while travelling within India or abroad. Additionally, it can be customised according to the place you are travelling to if you want optimum benefits. Medical treatments, hospitalisation and accommodation for medical emergencies are some of the things covered under this plan. This plan provides coverage for tenures as short as five days or even up to one year. 

Pro Tip: When travelling outside the country, it is advisable to opt for travel medical insurance as a cover against unforeseen illness, or worse, serious accidents. 

Over and above a regular travel insurance cover, a medical coverage policy also covers several other situations, such as:

  • Loss of passport
  • Loss of checked-in baggage
  • Flight hijack
  • Flight delays 

Multi-trip travel insurance policy

However, there are many business travellers in India who make multiple trips abroad. For frequent travellers like them, insurers offer a multi-trip travel insurance. 

Travel insurance benefits include cover for all travel over the course of a year, up to a maximum number of days per trip. This type of travel insurance is more cost effective if you travel frequently during the year.

Multi-trip travel insurance benefits:

  • It covers several international trips over the course of a year. However, there is a certain number of trips for a specified duration of travel. 
  • Cashless hospitalisation, healthcare services, and quick claim settlements are some of the advantages.
  • Usually, the length of the cover is for a period of 30, 45 or 60 days.

What are the other cost benefits?

This kind of travel medical insurance is advised even if you have medical insurance within India, because your domestic cover does not extend to medical emergencies abroad. And even if it does, the cover could be inadequate given the strength of the rupee against the dollar or other major world currencies.

Here’s an example to understand this better:

The costs of an appendectomy – a common enough emergency surgery that is performed to treat appendicitis – in two foreign destinations Indians are likely to visit: the US and Europe (say, Germany). 

In 2012, a report in the prestigious ‘Business Insider’ news portal quoted a study by the International Federation of Health Plans to say an appendectomy in the US costs $28,000 and $3,000 in Germany.

Ballpark estimates, in India, show the cost at 2017 prices would be a fraction of this – averaging from around Rs. 32,000 (Secunderabad) to around Rs. 85,000 (Mumbai) – depending on the city, the facilities availed of and the nature of surgery required.

In dollar terms, this ranges from around $500 to $1,322. Compare that to prices in Germany and the US five years ago.

 Visa requirements

Buying travel health insurance while travelling to the US, arguably a favourite travel destination for Indians, is not mandatory, but advisable for the reason cited above.

However, there is another compelling reason to do so. More and more countries are making travel insurance mandatory for visitors to entry into their country, primarily because an uninsured visitor can be a major liability for their state healthcare systems.

In other words, visitors do not have the choice to travel without travel medical insurance. For instance, countries in Europe’s Schengen area require a medical cover of €30,000 (about Rs. 23 lakh) for granting of visas.

The healthcare system in Germany – one of the 26 Schengen countries – specifies that every person staying in the country is required to have health insurance. 

“Even those who will stay in Germany for a short time must be health insured, otherwise requests for visas will not be granted,” its visa application guidelines say.

Gulf region and Indian travellers

Incidentally, there are three countries in the Gulf region – an Indian expat hub – that insist on such travel medical insurance cover: the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Thailand – a favourite tourist destination among Indians – is also considering introducing medical coverage requirements. Other countries that have recently followed suit include Cuba, Turkey, South Africa and Russia. 

Elderly travellers 

Elderly people from the India are known for frequently travelling overseas to visit their children, who are working abroad. In such cases, visitor medical insurance is available for parents visiting the US from India. 

An important aspect to keep in mind while looking for the right policy that addresses your needs is what insurers call ‘pre-existing medical conditions’. 

Medical conditions for senior citizens become an important factor, as coverage can vary from one policy to another. After the age of 70, the options tend to reduce, especially if you need pre-existing condition coverage. However, there are still options available for both, US-based insurers and Indian players.

If a senior citizen does have a medical condition, you can always consider buying insurance from a US insurer that covers pre-existing conditions. 

Policy checklist while purchasing a travel health insurance policy 

1. Existing medical condition

Indian insurers, in general, offer satisfactory coverage at reasonable rates for those who have no pre-existing medical condition.

But there are also many insurers who offer numerous benefits when covering pre-existing medical conditions. Additionally, their premiums are considerably lower than that of most US insurers.

However, it is important to remember that an insurer can reject hospitalisation claims if the treatment was for a condition that existed before the policy start date, or was needed for a condition that was triggered by a pre-existing condition.

2. Plan without sub-limit clauses 

Another things that is always recommended is to opt for a plan without sub-limit clauses for elderly individuals, relating to specific treatments, illnesses, and maximum eligible amount limits.

This is because even if the coverage or the sum insured is high, any excess amount will not be eligible for a claim. Look at the fine print; there can be sub-limits applicable for age groups of 55+, 60+, 61+, etc.

3. Add-ons

You must also look for travel medical insurance policies that offer additional coverage for out-patient treatment (OPD), accident-related hospitalisation, medical evacuation and repatriation of mortal remains.

This means if you make a claim under any of these heads, it will not reduce your overall sum insured.

The US angle

As stated earlier, healthcare costs in the US are exorbitant as compared to those in India. Options offered by travel agencies usually do not vary much, and these can be expensive too.

However, a cursory online comparison of medical coverage can throw up a range of options to choose from. But there are a few areas that you must look out for: 

  • Plan pricing: From basic coverage to complete coverage, check the different costs for plans.
  • Insurer’s reputation: Is your insurer trustworthy? What do the online reviews say? How does it deal with claims?
  • Ease of securing approval: What documents or medical examinations does the insurer ask for to approve a policy?
  • Network coverage: How big is the insurer’s network in the US? How many hospitals are under its approval list? Does it have any hospital in the area you are scheduled to visit?

When comparing US basic travel health insurance plans, note that the pricing can change significantly while switching from 2010 Obamacare to the 2017 Trumpcare system.

 

Related Article