Expatriate Insurance: Playing Safe While Living Abroad
You have the opportunity of a lifetime to live abroad for the next year. You’ve planned every part of your stay down to the last detail – or so you think. Have you thought about what will happen if you become so ill that you require extended medical treatment? Even if you live in the most cosmopolitan of cities, if you become critically ill you will want to return home to be near family and friends while you recover.
You may believe if that scenario arises, you can depend on your managed care plan. However, your stateside health insurance plan is not designed to cover extended stays out of the country. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) cover emergency room treatment anywhere, but typically offer other coverage through provider networks in the state where you live. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) cover a larger percentage of medical expenses if you visit network doctors, which are usually local. Medicare offers no coverage at all for medical expenses incurred while living outside the United States.
What about travel insurance? Your instinct tells you this is where you will find the coverage you need. It seems logical, but it isn’t quite correct. Travel insurance usually offers coverage for a period of six months. Should you become sick or injured during the benefit period, your treatment is only covered until you reach the end of the six months. After that point, you would be responsible for your own medical expenses.
So what alternative do you have to make sure this trip doesn’t end up costing you far more than expected because of unanticipated medical bills? You can purchase expatriate health insurance. The name tells you exactly what the coverage offers. It is derived from the Latin language in which “ex” means away from, and “patria” means Fatherland. This insurance is especially developed for people who will be away from their home country for six months or more. Expatriate health coverage is designed to overcome the problems with the geographic limitations and restrictive provider networks that are associated with your managed care plan. It also helps a sick or injured expatriate deal with language translation, currency exchange, and transportation to Western treatment centers when trying to navigate through the maze of a foreign health care system.
There are two types of plans. The basic plan offers coverage for in-patient or in-hospital care including your actual hospital stay, various medical service providers and transportation by local ambulance. You can purchase enhanced basic plans that may also include outpatient visits, some therapies as well as prescribed drugs. At-home nursing care and emergency dentistry are also covered typically.
If you require more extensive coverage, comprehensive plans can be obtained for much higher premiums. Comprehensive plans may cover psychiatry, rehabilitation, home nursing, childbirth, eye and ear specialists, dietitians, psychotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths. Diagnostic tests and prescription drugs may also be covered.
Emergency medical evacuation coverage is available in a number of the basic plans. However, almost all plans allow you to include it for an additional charge. This coverage provides for immediate transportation from anywhere in the world to the nearest medically advanced treatment center for in-patient emergency conditions. Generally such plans also allow for reasonable return fare to your country of residence.
All these health plans have some restrictions and exclusions. If you are employed in a hazardous occupation some plans will not cover you. Pre-existing conditions, either known or unknown at the time you apply for coverage, are usually not covered. Depending on the condition, however, some carriers may be willing to underwrite it for an added charge. Injuries resulting from war or riot are not covered. Some plans do cover acts of passive war and terrorism such as an injury that occurred while you were an innocent bystander.