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My recent skiing mishap while in Canada brought the issue of health insurance to the forefront of my mind. I take lots of trips outside of the country, and while most are totally illness or injury free, you never know when your luck may run out on any given trip. My knee injury was stable and not life threatening in any way, so we opted to just wait to get it checked out until we got back home the next day. However, before we knew if it was going to swell up worse or become a bigger problem, I started to think through my options if I needed medical assistance while in Canada.
Clearly I’m not covered by Canadian health care, so I wasn’t sure what the final bill would be for a doctor’s visit if I needed one. Luckily the commonly recommend Whistler Medical Clinic lists their office visit charge on their website, so I knew what that price would be to get in the door ($135), and any other charges you could get an estimate for once you were told what you needed. The website clarified that you did have to pay if you didn’t have a Canadian health plan (what, no free doctor’s visit?!).
Your Health Insurance May Cover You Outside the US:
Once I decided I didn’t really need to see a doctor in Canada, I didn’t give insurance another thought until I got home and settled, but now I decided to dig a bit deeper in case my family is faced with a similar or more serious issue in the future. A call to our health insurance provider revealed that we are typically covered in 200 countries outside the US for emergencies, but may or may not be for non-emergency issues. That coverage will depend on where we are, what doctor we see, what the treatment codes are, etc. I was told we need to pay up front for the charges (hello credit card points), and then would submit a form to the insurance company to get reimbursed for the allowed portion.
Given that I do travel so often with my family, this is probably something I should have clarified a long time ago, but now we know. A more detailed list of providers is on their website should we need it in the future. We were also encouraged to call if we are outside the country and need medical assistance as they can give us some information over the phone. If you want to be a bit more proactive than me, you should give your insurance company a call to see what the protocols are for when you are outside the US and need medical assistance before you hop on the plane.
Consider Travel Insurance:
Another option if you are concerned your coverage outside the standard network isn’t sufficient, is to buy travel insurance. I have found medical travel insurance is often bundled in with trip insurance that covers things like delayed bags, hurricanes, illness at home, job loss, or other things that would cause the trip to be cancelled. I have bought this a couple of times through USAA for specific trips and found the prices to be quite reasonable, but I would not personally buy it for every trip as I would likely end up paying way more in premiums than I ever would get back out of it. However, it can be smart if you think the trip is particularly higher risk for some reason or if it is to a location outside of your health coverage zone. Some good basic info on this and other insurance options can be found here.
Get Back Home:
I’m certainly not a doctor, so don’t confuse this with medical advice, but if you have the ability to get back home without making your condition worse or spreading an illness to others, then that is an option to consider as well. That is certainly what I opted for, but it was a pretty easy call in my case. I knew that even if I got some tests in Canada, my doctors at home would probably do them again anyway. My injury also wasn’t going to get worse as long as I took it easy. The further away from home you are, and the worse your condition, the less likely that will be an easy call.
Hopefully you will never be faced with an issue like this, but it is a good idea to at least think through your options as it can be hard to make rational decisions in the moment when you or a loved one is sick or injured on a trip. I had the luxury of being able to think through my options on a relatively minor injury, so now I’m prepared in the event one of us faces a more serious event in the future. Hopefully that will never happen to us or any of you, but it’s never a bad idea to have a basic understanding of how your own health insurance coverage works.
I’d love to hear from other family travelers out there about how you handle health insurance and medical issues when away from home!