Know where to find in-network providers and consider travel insurance while abroad
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 08, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO » Getting sick or hurt while on summer vacation is unfortunate enough. Don't add insult to injury by neglecting a few health-related details that could save you money in the event you need medical treatment.
If you're traveling domestically, research in-network providers at your destination to avoid having to pay higher rates for out-of-network care. Go to your insurer's website or call the toll-free number on your insurance card for help finding local in-network doctors for nonemergencies. Some insurers offer smartphone apps, such as UnitedHealthcare's Health4Me app, that allow you to find physicians in a given area.
Keep your primary-care doctor's phone number handy as well. You can always call for advice if it isn't an emergency.
"Most of the time, parents just need an answer to a question," said Deborah Mulligan, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatric emergency physician in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Another option for relatively minor problems is visiting a retail health clinic or urgent-care clinic. There are more than 1,300 retail clinics in 39 states, and they accept major health plans or cash payment if you don't have coverage, said Tom Charland, chief executive of Merchant Medicine, a consulting firm in Shoreview, Minn.
Check your insurer's website to find a facility, or go to the sites of big operators, such as CVS' MinuteClinic.com or TakeCareHealth.com, a Walgreens subsidiary.
Retail clinics offer a limited scope of services, treating ailments like pinkeye, bronchitis, ear infections and bladder infections. If you have an injury that is not life-threatening, such as a simple fracture, cut or burn, visit an urgent-care center instead.
It's vital to carry a short health summary for every traveler in your family listing current medications and health conditions, previous hospitalizations, drug allergies, your doctors' contact information and the like. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers a variety of forms online that you can print and fill out, including one for children with special health-care needs. (Go to emergencycareforyou.org/ EmergencyManual, scroll down and click on Medical Forms.)
If you've had an EKG, take a copy of it in your wallet. This will help doctors establish a base line and possibly avoid an expensive cardiac work-up, said Linda Stogner, a family physician in Estancia, N.M., and ship physician with Lindblad Expeditions.
"It's your record. It's your heart. You should have it," she said.
If you or your children are behind on immunizations, get caught up before you take off. "Imagine the cost of falling ill from something like whooping cough or measles unnecessarily," Mulligan said.
Traveling abroad is more complicated. Medicare doesn't cover routine or emergency care outside the United States, except for a few narrow exceptions around the Canadian border and in or near U.S. harbors. Private insurers vary on what, if anything, they cover internationally.
Some group health plans might cover a medical evacuation, said Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group in Washington, "especially if the company has employees who travel abroad frequently."
One option is to buy travel insurance, which typically runs 5 to 7 percent of your total trip cost. Travel insurance for medical needs is usually offered as part of a package including coverage for trip cancellation and interruption, but stand-alone medical policies also exist. Plans are available through travel agents and online.
Policies typically cover everyday issues such as when a traveler falls and needs to fly home for surgery as well as emergencies that require a chartered flight with medical equipment. You can compare travel-insurance policies at Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com.
Without some insurance the cost of a medical evacuation typically ranges from $20,000 to $30,000, said Carol Mueller, spokeswoman for Travel Guard, a travel insurance provider in Stevens Point, Wis.
A travel insurance policy could cover "three seats in first class with an attending nurse all the way up to a helicopter," Mueller said.
As you pack up to leave, remember all your health and prescription insurance cards. Make sure your prescriptions are filled and that you have enough should you be delayed upon return. Bring a medication lockbox if you'll be around children. Whether you're camping or sharing a hotel room, vacations often mean close quarters with kids, who may have more access to potentially harmful substances.
Last, take good care of yourself when you hit the road. Apply sunscreen regularly to avoid a painful sunburn, and use caution when hauling and lifting luggage.
Fight dehydration by drinking plenty of water, and take bathroom breaks even if they're inconvenient. Delaying urination can tax your body in ways that invite bladder infections, kidney stones and gout, Stogner said.