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Special Report: Health Care Abroad

The Fine Print—Understanding Insurance Coverage

Things to look for when choosing a travel health insurance plan:

Preexisting conditions Many plans won't cover them. However, some will waive the exclusion if you purchase insurance shortly after you put down a deposit on your trip. The grace period typically runs between 7 and 15 days. Be sure to check how the plan defines a preexisting condition, and whether you might be off the hook if your diagnosis was made a few years ago.

Age Check for any special limitations on older travelers. Some plans won't cover those 75 or older; others go up to age 80.

Medical services The best plans offer round-the-clock assistance, referral and translation services, and a network of accredited health-care providers.

Adventure sports If you have an accident while engaging in a "high risk" activity—anything from scuba diving to hot-air ballooning—you'll usually need to have purchased a "sports rider" to be covered. Inquire about specific activities: some plans exempt parasailing, for example, while others don't. If you're traveling within the United States and are covered by your own health insurance, this isn't an issue; injury caused by any legal activity tends to be covered.

Pregnancy/childbirth Most travel health plans do not cover pregnancy-related episodes or childbirth. Those that do usually have restrictions.

Credit cards Some gold and platinum cards offer medical evacuation assistance. That usually means arrangements to get you to a hospital, but not the expense (though you might get your credit extended).

Medical evacuation The most comprehensive plans cover transport to the nearest high-quality medical facility as well as repatriation—that is, the trip back home. Watch out for plans that cover only "medically necessary" transfers, since this may mean you can't choose where you're treated.

Wire transfers/direct payment Some plans will wire cash or pay a hospital or doctor directly; others will not.

Prescription drugs Most plans will help you fill a prescription overseas or replace a lost one from the States. Some also offer limited reimbursement for prescriptions.

A Guide to Travel Medical Providers

800/487-4722; www.insuremytrip.com
The Product 30 travel health insurance plans from 11 providers
What's Covered Typically, medical expenses, evacuation, and repatriation
The Cost Based on age, length of trip, and amount of coverage—anywhere from $20 for a standard single-trip plan to $250 for an annual plan

888/243-2358; www.highwaytohealth.com
The Product TravelGap Vacationer
What's Covered Up to $100,000 in medical expenses and $50,000 for evacuation
The Cost Based on age and length of trip—a 15-day plan for travelers in their forties is $65; for those ages 60 through 74 it would be $87.50

800/989-2345; www.buyinternationaltravel.com
The Product Patriot Travel Medical Insurance
What's Covered Up to $100,000 in medical expenses, evacuation, and repatriation costs
The Cost Based on age and length of trip—a 15-day plan for travelers in their forties is $37

800/826-1300; www.travelguard.com
The Product Cruise, Tour and Travel plan
What's Covered Up to $10,000 in medical expenses and $50,000 for evacuation
The Cost Based on age and cost of trip—averages between 5 and 7 percent of trip cost (higher for older travelers)

800/963-3538; www.medjetassistance.com
The Product MEDJET Assistance program
What's Covered Medical transport, including repatriation, for one year as long as you're at least 150 miles from home
The Cost $195 for individuals 75 and under; $295 for a family plan (up to seven people)


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