A couple of months ago, I was elbow deep in researching health insurance options, anxious to make a decision because my employer’s open enrollment period for 2013 was coming to a close. I thought I might opt out of my company-sponsored health insurance plan and pay for a less expensive plan beginning January 1. I was considering this since I’ll be left without company-sponsored health insurance two months into the year when I leave to begin my trek anyway.
This was the first time I’d taken a good look at health insurance options since first my parents and now my employer have always covered me. What I found made me want to retch, but I didn’t for fear that I’d be paying for the anti-nausea medicine out-of-pocket. The many plans that I saw either had deductibles in the thousands of dollars after which only 70% of expenses were reimbursed, cost hundreds of dollars per month, or both. I know that they’re called “catastrophic plans” for a reason, but I’m not particularly convinced that they’d actually help in a catastrophe.
He didn’t know it at the time, but Chris (aka sit-a-bit) came to my rescue, knight-in-shining-armor-like. I was at home on a Saturday night scouring the internet for options when my computer “dinged,” letting me know I had new activity on my blog. Chris, a recently accomplished thru-hiker, left a lengthy comment, informing me of the value of travel insurance as an alternative. (Chris, I hope it’s OK that I’m quoting you). Not that Chris is super chatty (thorough?) or anything (uh, yeah)…but I’ve taken the liberty of cutting down the comment for size (yes, this is the short version):
I left my job and did not want to pay COBRA…I purchased Trip Insurance, the best plan available that covers everything including medical emergencies (Do Not Skimp Here to save a few bucks). This will cover you if you have emergency medical issues, need to be extricated, plus including the payment for the airfare home. The insurance cost me about $950 for the whole 6 months. A tip to purchasing this insurance is that they base it on the cost of the trip, and you want to tell them the cost of the airfare to Atlanta and the first night stay (probably at the Hiker’s Hostel). They will ask for your beginning and end destination points, I gave them my home to Atlanta and then Millinocket, Maine to my home. They seemed to have no problem with my trip being a hike. Oh, trip insurance has a ZERO deductible. You will have to pay or be billed your medical expenses and submit them for reimbursement. In the past I have used the medical reimbursement and it was just a matter of submitting the bill and the check arrived in a week or two.
I had to read Chris’s comments several times because I kept getting stuck on the ZERO deductible bit. My current health insurance is excellent by most Americans’ standards, and I still pay over $150 per month for my portion (my employer pays the other 75%) in addition to a sizable copay any time I see a doctor or fill a prescription. And the cost he quoted…you have to be kidding me! Seriously?!
After getting the name of the company from Chris (thank you, Chris!), I looked into it myself. I visited the website and plugged in my information to get an instant quote. I entered my age, trip cost (as Chris proscribed), the dates of my trip (max trip length allowable is 180 days), and my beginning/ending location. The system spit out a quote of $780 plus $25 for the Optional Medical upgrade, which eliminates the $50 per incident deductible and doubles medical coverage to $100,000.
So, let me get this right: for less than I pay for health insurance now, I can be completely covered should I become ill or injured on my trek? AND I can be reimbursed in case anything is stolen or lost, my trip is cancelled or delayed, or I need to be evacuated in an emergency? This is out of control.
Since I wanted to make sure that nothing fishy was going on, I called the company. The woman over the phone patiently explained how the insurance works. She said you can go to whatever doctor you want (more like a PPO than HMO…but that’s my thought, not hers). However, the policy will neither cover routine visits nor drugstore expenses such as a knee brace from CVS. If, on the other hand, a doctor wrote a prescription for a knee brace, that would be a different story.
When I described what I was doing in hiking the A.T., the company rep assured me that it wasn’t a problem and was coverable. The purchaser (i.e. yours truly) is required to pay for the entire policy up front. Should you have a pre-existing condition, the company recommends purchasing at least 21 days in advance of your trip; otherwise, it just has to be pre-departure. Also, as opposed to health insurance, you are required to pay for expenses and then submit a claim for reimbursement.
Of course, I’m just giving you the quick run-down. Should any of you out there decide to buy travel insurance (for a thru-hike or any other trip), make sure you thoroughly read your terms and conditions. It is a contractually-binding legal agreement between the purchaser and the insurance provider.
After that phone call, I did some research online to compare travel insurance providers. First, I found http://www.travelinsurancereview.net, a site completely devoted to the purpose. In addition to providing thorough company reviews, the website also offers a comprehensive “Travel Insurance 101” tutorial with the following articles:
- Examples of “Real Life” Travel Risks
- What does travel insurance cover?
- The Most Popular Types of Travel Insurance
- How to select the right coverage based on your needs
- Five Common ‘Loopholes’ and How to Avoid Them
- Top 10 Questions Every Traveler Asks
- 4 Steps to Take After You Purchase
- How to Get Quotes and Compare Plans
I’m usually a “learn by doing” kind of person, but in this case I read all eight of the short “chapters” and found them helpful and informative.
I then visited www.squaremouth.com, which is a clearinghouse for travel insurance plans. Once I performed a search, I was able to filter my list by particular features of the plans that I deemed priorities. Truth be told, I’ll likely go with the company that Chris mentioned because they have a comprehensive plan that meets my needs, and the customer service when I called was great. But I still have time between now and my departure to change my mind.
I am absolutely thrilled to know about this option and grateful to Chris for going out of his way to tell me. The process of finding insurance made me realize the downside potential. I could fork over money every month and still face disastrous bills should medical care become necessary. Instead, I’ll opt for travel insurance; I may not use it (let’s hope I won’t have to file a claim!), but I’ll have peace of mind in knowing that, if I need to, it’ll be there to protect me…and my bank account.