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Travel Insurance vs. Travel Health Insurance: What’s the Difference?

Travel Insurance vs Health Insurance
Allianz - Travel Insurance vs Health Insurance

We often see the terms “travel insurance” and “travel health insurance” used interchangeably. They sound similar. And they both can help pay medical bills when you’re overseas. But they’re very different things.

Here’s one way to think about it. Travel health insurance is your sidekick, covering routine medical care if you’re going to be overseas for a long time. Travel insurance with emergency medical benefits is your superhero, leaping into action when you experience a serious, even catastrophic, covered medical emergency abroad. We’ll explain what you need to know about both.

Travel Insurance with Emergency Medical Benefits Covers Just That — Emergencies.

Emergency medical and dental benefits, included in many travel insurance plans, can cover losses due to covered medical and dental emergencies that occur during your trip. A covered medical emergency means a sudden, unexpected illness or injury during your trip that’s either life-threatening or could cause serious and irreparable harm if it isn’t treated. For emergency dental benefits, a covered emergency refers to an injury or infection, a lost filling or a broken tooth during your trip that requires immediate treatment by a dentist.

Put simply, emergency medical and dental benefits exist to protect you when you experience a serious covered medical crisis — not a minor health issue. These benefits do not cover things like routine preventative care, normal childbirth, elective cosmetic surgery, palliative care, experimental treatments or allergy treatments (unless life-threatening).

Travel Health Insurance is Designed for Long-Term Residency Overseas.

If you’re planning to live overseas for an extended time because you’re working, volunteering or retiring in another country, you should consider getting travel health insurance (also called travel medical insurance or international medical insurance). Travel health insurance is similar to domestic health insurance: It may cover things like checkups, visits to your primary care doctor, mental health care, prescriptions, etc.

Unlike travel insurance with emergency medical benefits, travel health insurance may require medical underwriting (a review of your medical history) and the payment of deductibles. Allianz Global Assistance does not sell travel health insurance. If you need travel insurance with emergency medical benefits for a longer trip, consider our OneTrip Emergency Medical Plan. Designed for trips up to 180 days in length, this plan offers flexible and affordable travel insurance for travelers with few pre-paid expenses.

Medical Emergencies Overseas are More Common Than You Think.

What are the biggest risks to your health while you’re traveling? Most people guess things like exotic tropical diseases, muggings, or even crocodile or shark attacks. The truth is more mundane: car accidents are the number-one killer of healthy Americans traveling overseas, according to the Centers for Disease Control.1

Every year, Allianz Global Assistance gets thousands of calls from American customers who need help dealing with a medical emergency overseas. The most common emergencies they experience are:

  • Fractures from falls, often to the hip, ankle, tibia, and fibia
  • Cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and strokes
  • Trauma, often from accidents involving cars, mopeds, and scooters
  • Pulmonary/respiratory problems, such as pneumothorax (collapsed lung)

Your Regular Health Insurance Probably Won’t Cover You Abroad.

“Most domestic health plans provide limited coverage overseas and won't cover prescriptions abroad," Margaret Wilson, M.D., chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Global, tells Consumer Reports.2 That includes Medicare, which, in most cases, does not cover plan participants outside the United States. (Some Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans include worldwide emergency care.)

Every health insurance plan is different, so call your provider before you travel and ask what’s covered. If the plan does cover you while you’re traveling, ask about the dollar limits, as well as the procedure for submitting claims and getting reimbursed. Many hospitals overseas expect payment up front, so don’t expect to be able to present your health insurance card to a hospital and have everything taken care of. If you have travel insurance with emergency medical benefits, we often work with hospitals to guarantee payment, so you can be treated as quickly as possible following a covered injury or illness.

Know the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Coverage.

If you purchase a travel insurance plan with primary emergency medical and dental benefits, that means the travel insurance company is the first payer or reimburser of those benefits. Secondary insurance coverage, on the other hand, only kicks in after primary benefits have been paid. To find out if your travel insurance plan includes primary emergency medical and dental benefits, read your policy documents and contact Allianz Global Assistance with any questions.

If You Have an Existing Medical Condition, Make Sure You’re Covered.

Do you have a chronic illness, a bum knee or another existing medical condition? Be cautious when you’re buying insurance.  Travel health insurance plans typically won't cover pre-existing conditions, unless you purchase a special waiver.3

Certain travel insurance plans can cover existing medical conditions, but specific requirements must be met. You must insure your full nonrefundable trip costs within 14 days of paying your first trip deposit, and you must be medically able to travel when you do so. Some exclusions apply, however. Read more about how travel insurance covers existing medical conditions.

If You Do Experience a Medical Emergency Overseas, Allianz Global Assistance Will Help Get You the Care You Need.

Feeling overwhelmed by all this talk about covered reasons and exclusions? We get it! And we’re here to help. If you’re traveling abroad and you get hurt or sick, you don’t have to agonize over whether it counts as a covered medical emergency. Just call us!

Our hotline is staffed around the clock by our expert Assistance team, who can review your case and determine where and how you can best be treated. Our multilingual team members can also serve as your medical interpreters, arrange payment for covered medical emergency services, and make emergency medical transportation arrangements if you suffer a covered illness or injury during your trip and our medical assistance team determines that the local medical facilities are unable to provide appropriate medical treatment.

See more about our 24 Hour Assistance team:

We’re also here to help before you leave on your trip. If you’re not sure which travel insurance plan is right for you, our customer service team can explain the different plans and benefits. Stay safe, and travel happy!

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Mar 02, 2018