I have a lot of travel insurance companies as advertising clients on my various websites and am happy to have them as partners. But I have to admit I almost never buy travel medical insurance for myself when I’m traveling. The main reason is, it’s just so much cheaper to simply pay for medical care when you need it once you are outside the U.S.
Last month I did a lot of catching up on magazines and saw three different blurbs where someone talked about their doctor bill after having some kind of mishap on the road. One was in the funny letters part of Budget Travel, where a woman had a motor scooter wreck in Thailand—very common. She stopped in the emergency room and “x-rays, medication, bandage, and doctor’s visit came to $11!”
In another, a person in Ecuador said they saw the doctor, got x-rays, spent a couple hours with nurses’ care, and got a prescription filled for painkillers. The grand total was $19. When I got deathly ill from something I ate one time in Ubud, Bali, the doctor made a house call to my room, gave me a week’s supply of antibiotics, and charged me $12. A backpacker I met later said he got the same treatment for $7. (I was robbed!)
In Mexico a couple years ago, a little girl ran into my car from the side and I spent hours shuttling her and the family to a doctor then a hospital. After two exams, x-rays, bandages, stitches, and enough pills to medicate an elephant, I was out a grand total of $42. If she had needed to spend the night in the hospital it would have been $18 more.
My mom flew to Costa Rica three times last year to get her teeth worked on, with loads of implants, crowns, and who knows what else. Even after the flights and hotels, it came out to around half what her small-town home dentist had quoted her, in a nicer facility.
Now I’m not saying the peace of mind from insurance isn’t worth it if you shop around. Some people would gladly pay more to have one less thing to worry about. And high-risk activities (like heli-skiing or class 5 rapids kayaking) may warrant a high-risk policy. Plus I have bought annual medical evacuation insurance that is guaranteed to fly you or a member of your family to a real first-world hospital should you get bit by a python or chewed by piranhas in the middle of the Amazon.
Otherwise, if you’re in a cheap country or in a European one that covers tourists in an accident, it’s far cheaper just to wing it. Have money in your bank account, an ATM card, and a credit card and you’re good to go. No health care reform needed.
See travel health articles and resources at TransitionsAbroad.com
[flickr photo from DanMcNeely]