Before traveling, it’s a good idea to figure out what your health insurance covers in case you have to make an unplanned visit to the hospital. Also, if you rent a car while traveling, the rental agency will ask if you want to buy rental car insurance, so it’s good to know whether you need it. Understanding how and where your health and auto insurance extend when out of town is important, especially if you want to avoid being on the hook for a big bill. First things first, though – make sure you travel with your healthcare insurance card for you and your family members, and bring proof of auto coverage.
What different types of healthcare cover?
Emergency care – HMO, PPO, HDHP, Medicare and Medicare Advantage healthcare plans cover medical emergencies no matter where you are. Emergency care is defined as medical conditions that require rapid or advanced treatments, such as surgery in a hospital setting. When traveling abroad, you’re still covered for emergency care (except in the case of Medicare and Medicare Advantage), but you may have to pay up front. Your healthcare provider will reimburse you afterward.
Urgent Care – If you need urgent care, HMO, PPO, HDHP, Medicare and Medicare Advantage (in most cases) healthcare plans cover you no matter where you are. This is for an injury or illness that requires immediate attention but is not an emergency, such as a sprained ankle or a severe sore throat that needs to be treated outside your regular doctor’s office hours.
Non-emergency, routine care – This type of care covers everything else. Plans differ on their coverage for non-emergency, routine care.
- HMO – You have to contact your primary care doctor first and get a referral. There are limits on the coverage when you travel outside of your plan’s network and around the country. Your primary care physician will direct your care. By coordinating through your primary care physician, you ensure that the care you receive is covered by insurance.
- PPO – Make sure to select doctors and hospitals in your provider’s network to keep costs down. Insurers like Blue Cross have large networks across the country with many doctors and facilities.
- HDHP paired with an HSA – Like with a PPO, visit doctors and hospitals in your provider’s network to get the best rates and reduce out-of-pocket expenses.
- Medicare – When traveling in the U.S., you can get the care you need at no extra cost. Medicare (original Medicare) doesn’t cover healthcare when traveling outside the U.S. There are a few exceptions, though, such as if you live in the U.S. but a Canadian hospital is closer to your home. There are Medigap policies that can provide coverage when traveling internationally.
- Medicare Advantage – Like with the other health plans, you may be subject to higher out of pocket expenses for seeing out-of-network doctors. Also, you may need to obtain prior authorization before you’re treated. Since private healthcare carriers manage Medicare Advantage, your coverage depends on your plan when traveling outside the U.S.
When renting a car, you’ll be asked whether you want to buy insurance coverage for the vehicle. The daily rate may be reasonable, but you don’t want to pay extra for coverage that’s unnecessary.
- Comprehensive and liability – If you carry comprehensive and liability coverage on your personal car, this coverage extends to your rental car and should be adequate, unless you’re renting a car worth much more than your personal car. Any gaps not covered by your primary insurance coverage may be covered by your secondary insurance provider, such as your credit card. Keep in mind, though, that this coverage does not extend beyond the U.S., Canada, and in some cases, Mexico. If you’re traveling outside the U.S, your secondary coverage, such as your credit card, becomes your primary.
- Personal effects coverage – Your homeowner’s, renter’s or condo insurance covers personal items if they’re stolen out of your rental car.
- Personal accident insurance – If you have personal accident insurance, the coverage extends to your rental car in the event of a crash.
Credit cards can provide secondary rental insurance. The car must be rented with a credit card under your name and you must decline full coverage from the rental car company for this coverage to be in effect. If you don’t have personal auto insurance, your secondary credit card coverage becomes your primary. In this case, consider buying the rental car insurance if they offer liability protection because credit cards don’t provide liability insurance.
Here’s what the following credit cards cover:
- VISA offers rental car coverage on all of its credit cards.
- Mastercard offers rental car coverage only with their Gold, Platinum, World and World Elite credit cards.
- American Express offers premium coverage for a small fee, and has options for increased coverage.
- Discover’s coverage is limited to a few cards (Escape, Motiva, Open Road, and More), and only covers collision costs.
For more information, see Rental Car Insurance: Which Credit Cards Have You Covered.
Your credit card is typically your secondary coverage. However, when traveling abroad, it becomes your primary because most personal auto policies don’t extend coverage beyond the U.S. and Canada. Check with your credit card provider to see if they offer coverage in the country you’re traveling to. If they do, find out what the coverage is, and ask if they charge something to upgrade the coverage, such as a daily rate or flat fee. If your credit card company doesn’t provide coverage in the country you’re traveling to and your personal auto insurance doesn’t extend, then it’s a good idea to buy the insurance the rental car company offers.
The experience of traveling can be a great way to live life to its fullest. However, being aware of what coverage you have and how it extends to the place you’re visiting is important because it can save you money, and more importantly, many headaches.