Why more customers may need it than you think in 2023
By Don Van Scyoc
After a tumultuous several years, it’s great to be able to say that travel is back! U.S. outbound flight bookings have rebounded to 95% of 2019 bookings, with destinations such as Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, the United Kingdom and Italy topping the list (World Travel & Tourism Council, July 2022).
As your customers are making itineraries and starting to pack their bags, it’s important to discuss if they’ve thought about their health insurance and whether they have adequate coverage overseas.
Travel insurance is NOT international medical insurance
Many of your customers may be familiar with trip cancellation insurance, especially in today’s world of airline and airport staff shortages. Trip cancellation insurance insures a financial investment in a trip, helping with items such as lost baggage, canceled flights and delays. International medical insurance (also referred to as travel medical insurance), on the other hand, covers the medical attention a customer may need while outside their home country — things like emergency care, telemedicine and medical evacuation/repatriation.
COVID-19 has reshaped international travel and increased awareness of the importance of international medical insurance. Some countries have implemented policies mandating proof of adequate medical coverage and insurance as a requirement of entry. Even the U.S. State Department encourages travelers to be insured by reviewing their domestic coverage and/or purchasing a travel medical plan. However, your customers may still board the plane lacking adequate coverage. Here’s why…
Many customers assume their coverage extends overseas
Many of your clients enrolled in a domestic plan believe that they will have seamless access to medical care overseas. That is often not the case. In fact, some domestic group plans offer no coverage, nor do most Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans. Even the best Medicare supplement plans have limited international benefits. It may be surprising to learn that the following benefits are not included with most domestic plans:
- Access to 24/7 assistance services to set up hospital stays and coordinate care
- COVID-19 medically necessary testing and treatment
- Access to a contracted global provider network
- Clear, extensive evacuation/repatriation coverage and AD&D
- Direct pay (a cashless experience with no costly upfront payments for care)
- 24/7 telemedicine and security profiles
The fact is that most domestic health plans are simply not designed to support customers abroad. Any claims your customers file overseas are considered out-of-network and may not be covered or reimbursed. Telemedicine is limited to only U.S.-licensed doctors. Customers who need to contact their insurer may only be able to do so during standard U.S. business hours. The list goes on.
Furthermore, U.S. health insurance is typically not recognized by overseas providers. This could mean your customers may have to pay in full for services upfront before care is given. A seemingly simple visit to the doctor and pharmacy could set customers back quite a bit; a fall, car accident or medical emergency requiring an ambulance and hospital stay could wipe out their savings. The financial and emotional impact could be devastating.
However, you can help protect customers from unwelcome surprises and the gaps that could occur when relying on domestic insurance internationally by setting them up with an appropriate international medical insurance plan.
How to identify customers that may need travel medical coverage
It’s not just one type of customer that needs international insurance. Think about all these scenarios (and several may overlap):
Anyone vacationing falls into this category (some plans cover individuals to age 95), including students on spring break or study abroad programs and independent business travelers who take frequent trips abroad.
Digital nomads and location-independent employees
This is an exploding area in recent years, as the line between work and home is now blurred (or nonexistent, with some customers taking advantage of “work from anywhere” situations). Customers may include independent digital nomads who opt for a lifestyle of working remotely outside their home country or employees who work for an employer and make the personal choice to work outside their home country. This also includes employees taking “workcations” that combine work and leisure travel.
This can include a wide range of customers, such as:
- individuals who live and work independently outside the U.S.,
- foreign nationals studying in the U.S. and looking to stay in the U.S. after their program has ended and
- U.S. college students soaking up a few more months of an international experience after their study abroad program has ended. Expats can also include specific groups, such as a yacht crew and missionaries, who need international healthcare solutions.
These policies have limited coverage overseas. Outside the U.S., Medicare Supplement policies can carry a $50,000 lifetime maximum. Just one medical evacuation could max out a policy and place your customers at risk of needing more coverage. Plus, these domestic policies hold seniors responsible for covering the costs of their treatment until they file a claim for reimbursement (and then, in many cases, the policy will only pay for 80% of the cost). Customers are also responsible for coordinating their own care, which can be overwhelming for seniors battling potential health issues in a foreign city.
Most ACA plans offer no international health insurance coverage. Customers would be responsible for paying for all medical services out-of-pocket and may have care refused if they cannot afford to pay upfront.
Things to consider when evaluating coverage options
It’s likely evident that a lot of your customers could use your guidance with travel medical insurance. It’s important to talk to them about their travel plans before they leave the U.S., understand their travel needs and support them in selecting the best plan for their unique situation.
First, look at your customer’s existing plan and examine what it does and does not cover. The plan may have some international benefits, but chances are there are gaps in the coverage. If you work in an employer market, some employer-sponsored products do in fact extend coverage seamlessly overseas — but others do not.
Then start researching plan options from different travel medical insurance providers. There are multiple carriers who offer international coverage. Here are some things to look for:
- Is COVID-19 testing and treatment included?
- Does the plan cover pre-existing conditions?
- Does the plan have inside limits?
- What are the medical limits for medical evacuation and repatriation?
- Does the plan offer telemedicine access to multilingual doctors?
Also look for unique offerings that could benefit specific customers. For example, GeoBlue offers an app that can help with translating the names of medicines or communicating food allergies. Features like this could help customers avoid needing medical care when traveling and provide much greater peace of mind.
Proactively reach out to your customers
It’s a new year, and your customers may be thinking about travel related to spring break, summer vacations, work trips and even the next holiday season. Reach out to them and ask about their plans so you can support them if international travel is being considered. You can help them understand what coverage they may need now — before they travel — and plan accordingly.
And while we’re talking about reaching out, you can also reach out for support! International medical insurance is complicated, and you don’t have to be an expert. Industry experts from the various providers can help you evaluate options and identify the right solutions for your customers. We’re here to help you ensure your customers have the coverage they need when traveling overseas.
Don Van Scyoc Vice President, Individual Sales leads the sales and retention teams for GeoBlue’s individual short-term travel and long-term expat sales through direct and brokered channels.
GeoBlue is the trade name for the international health insurance programs of Worldwide Insurance Services, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, GeoBlue’s purpose is to simplify the international healthcare experience for the globally mobile. GeoBlue members have access to one of the largest care networks in the world, coupled with high-tech, high-touch services that enable them to fulfill their international aspirations. Whether it’s executives doing business in Tokyo, students studying in Spain, or tourists traveling the world, the power of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield brand is always within reach. To learn more, visit GeoBlue | International Travel Health Insurance Coverage (geo-blue.com)