Summer is here, and for many in New England, that means trips to destinations domestic and abroad. An all-time record 231 million passengers are expected to fly U.S. airlines between June 1 and Aug. 31, up from 210 million a year ago, according to Airlines for America. That includes 30.5 million travelers on international flights.
However, about 20 percent of people suffer some type of illness or injury while on vacation, the most common of which include food poisoning and car crashes. Before you hit the road or take to the skies, consider these tips to make sure your health, safety and wallet are covered while you are away
Know before you go: Before traveling out of your home state or internationally, take time to review your health plan and understand what it covers. People traveling domestically should check if their health plan offers a national or local network of hospitals and health care providers, and confirm what level of coverage is available at out-of- network facilities. For people planning to travel overseas, it is important to contact their primary care doctor or travel medicine clinic to determine what pre-screenings or immunizations might be recommended or required, based on their health history and the countries they will visit. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention enables people to search a list of countries and determine what vaccines they should consider.
Find care anywhere: Many health plans now offer telemedicine and mobile apps to support their customers' health needs. The Health4Me app, available to anyone free of charge on iPhone or Android devices, enables users to identify nearby health care providers, hospitals, pharmacies and urgent care facilities, as well as compare quality and cost information for common medical services. Some health plans offer mobile apps that enable members to access a digital ID card and connect with a registered nurse 24/7. For international trips, contact your global insurance carrier to find out about the availability of approved medical facilities at planned travel destinations.
Protection abroad: People can help alleviate concerns about quality of care and financial anxiety with international medical coverage. Global insurance companies can provide foreign-language translation, direct you to appropriate facilities or support evacuation to alternative facilities, and can work with local health care providers to coordinate and monitor care. Most domestic insurance won't cover prescriptions abroad, so for long vacations ask your care provider for enough medication to cover the duration of the trip (as well as check that specific medications are legal in the countries you are visiting). Some international health plans may include prescription drug coverage that enables people to fill prescriptions at local retail pharmacies.
Get your credit: Even with international coverage, consider carrying an extra credit card with a large limit to use for unanticipated medical expenses. Foreign hospitals will typically want upfront payment, rather than billing the health plan. Get clear and complete copies of all bills, medical records and discharge notes for reimbursement from your health plan. Some global health plans do provide direct payments to foreign hospitals and care providers, eliminating a potential inconvenience and providing peace of mind.
Be a Savvy Medicare traveler: Original Medicare in nearly all cases applies to the United States only and does not extend overseas or across the border (other than in cases in the Northern U.S. where the nearest hospital is in Canada). Some Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement plans offer worldwide emergency coverage for foreign travel, although some have restrictions and lifetime limits. Finally, it's important to account for the working condition of durable medical equipment needed for the trip, such as glucose monitors and insulin pumps, before departure.
Following these tips will help you focus on fun, friends and family during summer vacations, while helping alleviate stress from health care access or insurance issues during a medical emergency.
Dr. Neal Galinko is the senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of New England.