Traveling abroad? Get covered!

You’re getting ready to leave the country for a much-anticipated getaway abroad with loved ones, when your travel agent or an airline internet prompt asks you: Would you like to purchase a travel protection policy?

The answer, says Jacquie Schwoerke, vice president of Sharp HealthCare’s Global Patient Services program, should be yes. But her advice comes with a dose of caution: Purchasing online coverage is not necessarily good if it’s cheap — you need to read the fine print.

Travel protection policies are not just for the “elderly,” she says. Although Schwoerke recommends emergency medical coverage for anyone leaving the U.S., she says certain travelers need travel health protection coverage the most: older travelers; those who have pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy; and college students about to embark on a semester abroad.

“Relying on your credit card or domestic health insurance plan, including Medicare, to take care of your health needs when you’re faced with an emergency outside of the U.S. is an assumption and a mistake I hear about all too often,” Schwoerke says.

She adds, “Especially when it comes to international travel, many people are unaware of the details and the limitations of their domestic and travel health insurance plans.” While many travelers believe they are covered, they cannot answer the question, “What are you covered for?” She says you need to find that out before you leave the country.

Schwoerke says it’s important to take the time to call your health plan to see if they provide worldwide coverage and assistance in the event of a medical emergency. The majority of U.S. health insurance plans do not cover you when traveling outside of the U.S., except for the U.S. territories, so you should consider purchasing a medical travel policy.?

She also suggests enrolling yourself and your family in the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a service of the U.S. Department of State. This is important when traveling to developing countries, even to nearby Mexico.

Before you go, you should also check with government websites, such as the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to heed any warnings they offer for the country or countries you’re planning to visit.

“In this ever-changing environment of heightened security alerts — including popular destinations — it’s important to know what to expect,” says Schwoerke. “As always, remain vigilant and err on the side of caution when it comes to taking risks abroad.”

Read Schwoerke’s 10 tips for staying healthy and safe while traveling internationally.

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