When Health Insurance Won’t Cover It


In recent months, travel has been on the back burner for many. Business trips were replaced by Zoom meetings and vacations were canceled in favor of seeing the world via television screens from the safety and comfort of the couch. But now, many people are beginning to hop back into cars, boats and planes to reach destinations across the world.

For most of us — as we eagerly map out an itinerary of fun excursions for our family trip or scramble to put together a last-minute presentation for an important international business convention — the idea of how we’ll get medical care when we travel isn’t top of mind. But now more than ever, as the pandemic continues and people get back to traveling, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected.

Travel insurance can protect your clients from steep out-of-pocket expenses in the event of illness, injury or other medical concerns during their trip. But, as with most insurance, choosing the right policy can be tricky. As a broker, there are a few key steps you can take to ensure you’re ready to help your clients get the coverage they need.

Understand various types of travel insurance
Travel insurance is available to both groups and individuals. If an employer-sponsored insurance plan doesn’t provide sufficient coverage, an individual can get a separate, additional policy through the same carrier, or a different carrier.

Different types of travel insurance are available for various circumstances, such as leisure (for short-term trips), student, expatriate, missionary or group/business travel. This makes sense, when you consider that different types of medical needs are more likely to arise in various circumstances. On an action-packed tropical vacation where you’re hiking up waterfalls and swimming with sharks, you’re more likely to wind up with an injury than you would be on the average business trip. And if you’re spending months or years away from home as a student or expatriate, you’re more likely to need coverage for basic preventive care than someone who is only planning on spending a few days away from home. Also, in order to get a visa for international travel, you may need a certain minimum amount of coverage for medical evacuation and/or repatriation of remains.

Understanding the differences between each kind of travel insurance will help you guide your clients to the carriers and policies that make the most sense for them. Every client is different, and it is important to strike the right balance to ensure adequate coverage while keeping budgetary considerations in mind.

Choose the right carrier partners
Before you can sell travel insurance to your clients, you’ll need to become appointed with carriers (e.g., GeoBlue, UnitedHealthCare Global, Cigna Global, Aetna International, etc.).
As you decide which carriers to partner with, be sure to consider the types of plans and coverage offered. For example, some may focus more on medical cover-age, while others may focus more on trip protection. Some may be better suited for domestic travel, and others may be better for international trips. Select the carriers that will best align with your clients’ anticipated needs.

In addition, consider the reputation of the carrier. Keep in mind that some offshore carriers may not be bound by the same laws that apply in the United States. You’ll want to make sure you are working with reliable carriers that your clients can count on.
Finally, take into account factors like practicality and convenience. How complicated is the claim submission process? Does the carrier offer user-friendly online tools or apps?

Help your clients find the right policy
In many cases, your clients may assume that because they have health insurance, they will have the coverage they need when they travel. But that is not always the case — and you can save them a ton of headaches (literally and figuratively) by helping them understand what additional coverage they may need. You don’t have to wait for them to ask about it either. By proactively educating your clients, you’ll establish yourself as a helpful resource, and you might even end up with a sale out of it.

How do you know which policy is right for your client?
If your client has a PPO plan and is traveling domestically, there is a good chance they will have the coverage they need, should any medical concerns arise during their trip. However, if they have an HMO plan and are traveling domestically, depending on where they go, they may have difficulty finding in-network providers.

For international travel, most health insurance policies will only cover life-threatening emergencies, and it is up to the carrier to determine what counts as “life threatening.” This means that care for common medical concerns — such as a broken arm, rash or earache — may not be covered without additional insurance. Global travelers may also find themselves in a location where they can’t access quality medical care, and they will need to be evacuated to a different area for treatment. This is typically not covered by domestic health insurance, but the appropriate travel insurance policy can provide the necessary protection.

Nobody plans to need a doctor while traveling, but anything from forgetting a prescription medication at home to eating something that doesn’t agree with you can leave you in an expensive bind if you don’t have the right insurance. Travel insurance helps your clients relax and get the most out of their trip without having to worry about unanticipated medical costs — even if they don’t use the insurance, they’ll benefit from increased peace of mind.

In addition to concerns about unexpected illness during travel, your clients may want to ensure they are covered if they get sick before their
trip and need to cancel it altogether. In many cases, travel insurance plans provide both trip protection (cancellation) coverage and emergency medical coverage. However, particularly if a client is traveling internationally, they may still wish to have additional coverage beyond what a typical trip protection plan will cover.
In today’s tech-driven world, another key consideration is access
to telemedicine. Global telemedicine is increasingly available, and it is important to be able to answer your clients’ questions about virtual care. Are there likely to be providers that offer telemedicine where your client
is traveling? What coverage does the client’s policy offer for telemedicine?
If your client is overseas and wants to contact their doctor back in the United States via telemedicine, can they do so?

Stay up to date on changes
As you know, the world of health insurance is always changing — and as health insurance changes, the ways travel insurance and traditional health insurance complement each other is likely to adapt and evolve as well.

With this in mind, it is a good idea to communicate regularly with carriers to stay informed of any changes to their policies that may affect the recommendations you give to your clients. General agencies are another great resource for information on industry trends that may impact health insurance and travel insurance decisions.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s to expect the unexpected — a lesson that’s especially true when traveling during
a pandemic. By helping your clients understand the discrepancies between their existing health coverage and the coverage they will need when they travel, you can help them stay healthy and avoid coming home with massive medical bills as a souvenir.


is chief business development officer at Warner Pacific — a general agency that provides brokers with sales assistance, technology and support for business growth. Find out more at www.warnerpacific.com