Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Getting Well on the Move

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Getting Well on the Move

Article excerpt

During the holiday season, about 5 million Americans are on the move. Whether it's to take in the sights of Rome or the beaches of Corpus Christi, most will be a long way from home.

This is a good thing, right? Most accidents happen in the home, the adage goes. But for many Americans, that's where their medical coverage ends. Before heading out to see the grandkids or your in- laws, check the facts.

"Most people think `that would never happen to me,'" said Lewis Dick, director of the Travelers' Health center at Saints Family Medicine Center, "but it's important for people to understand how well their health insurance covers them while they're traveling in the event of injury or disease." Dick said that about 25,000 Americans are injured while traveling abroad and that the average traveler loses two days out of a 14-day trip due to illness. With conditions in Oklahoma last week being both bitterly cold and slick, chances are good that someone knows someone else who was temporarily out-of-action. Although serious illness is unlikely, statistically speaking, it can occur and the costs can be debilitating. "Travelers need to know that Medicare doesn't cover treatment outside the United States," Dick said. "It's a point often overlooked. Many HMOs also require notification 24 to 48 hours in advance of departure. Embassies can provide guidance to a traveler in need, but can't provide assistance. Insurance companies know which hospitals to entrust their clients' lives to." Law and medical ethics require doctors to treat first and ask questions later. Bills come even later. Many plans attempt to span the distance in medical coverage, but some plans, Medicare among them, will not cover medical expenses incurred while traveling outside the United States. Dick points out that American embassies in other countries provide medical care only to its employees and cannot be expected to provide personal medical care or evacuation costs. Medical evacuation costs commonly start at $40,000 with most companies requiring upfront payment. Many plans require the insured to follow the company's procedures to receive coverage. This could involve the insured seeing only certain doctors, going to certain hospitals and other specific procedures. Most plans share common themes. Basic medical assistance usually includes payment of in-country medical bills up to a certain limit. This plan either reimburses expenses incurred or guarantees an upfront payment to the physician or health care facility and may include arranging consultations with a plan-approved doctor for recommended vaccinations and communication with family members in the event of distress. Emergency medical evacuation is a plus for any plan. This promises to transport the insured to the nearest medical facility able to treat the full extent of an injury, but not necessarily guarantee a return to the United States. …

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