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Day 102: We’re All Passionate People When It Comes to Travel Health Care

Day 102: Keeping Out the Cold... and Disease

Day 102: Keeping out the cold... and disease... and bad stuff that's everywhere.

Enlighten me. Please. Show me where you’re coming from because I just cannot understand it.

My post about scary shit about travel really opened up a can of worms — maybe not so much with everyone who read it, but more with me. All I wanted to talk about is the freaky weird diseases that SEEM to be more of a problem when you travel, and that would be because they are not a problem back where I come from… or even where I sit now in Australia. No, instead people TEND to pick them up more when they go overseas, so yes that scares the shit out of me. What’s worse is they are something that you really can’t vaccinate for. Those are risks you deal with when you decide to be a globetrotter pure and simple.

  • The leishmaniasis, for example, is transferred from a sand fly that tends to live in tropical and subtropical countries. If you look at this map, you can easily see that the risk is greater in parts of Africa and the areas of Indian, Nepal and Bangladesh. Would you like a skin-eating tropical disease with that plane ticket? NO thanks.
  • Now I may have jumped the gun on my freak-out over the possibility of getting a staph infection. As many have pointed out, you can get those anywhere, but still… when I was reading about Jeannie’s stuff on FB, it was not a help to see people say, “That’s exactly what I got in the Philippines,” or something to that extent. It just weirded me out initially.

    **Off topic, but did you know that the staphylococcus aureas bacteria can cause food poisoning?! Yep, it’s true. I took a food microbiology course in college; it was a rough semester after learning about all the things that could hurt me in food. It turns out that staph, once in food, can actually produce several toxins that make us sick when ingested! So, the staph itself doesn’t make us sick, but the toxins do. Now, how does the staph get in there? It could be from contaminated milk or cheese, but it could also be from poor handling by a cook, especially one that didn’t wash their hands properly or decided to rub their noise or touch their hair in the preparation process. Yep, staph is found on about 25-50% of people’s skin, inside noises and on hairs. This is one of the reasons I get so freaked out when I find a hair in my food.**
  • The malaria… everyone has an opinion…
  • Then, there’s the talk of getting vaccinated at all. Personally, I think it is silly to not get some vaccines, but if you’re down with taking risks, go for it.

That’s fine and dandy…

My readers can help me see the light on some of these issues, but man, oh man… when people talk about not needing travel health coverage, a fire is lit under me. I want to scream, “Uhm, what PLANET are you from?!”

Or maybe, what country are you from? Do you have a different view of health coverage because your home country has some awesome system? Are you the type of person that also doesn’t invest in anti-virus for your computer? Are you a Mac user?!

And that’s why I’m asking from the beginning of this post to enlighten me. Being from America, I know how much money it costs to be treated for even the most minor issues. It might be a couple thousand dollars to get your wisdom teeth extracted or have a root canal, and you might be able to handle that out of pocket. That’s cool that you have that cash floating around, but what happens when you spend one night in the hospital? Uhm. Bills happen. Gigantic, freaking bills. I’m just thinking back to my ACL knee surgery when I didn’t even spend a night in the hospital (all out-patient surgery, even though they offered me to stay once I had the surgery and was crying and dry-heaving uncontrollably) and those bills came to over $20,000! It was just a stupid knee surgery, in and out during working hours. I think, in the end, we only paid a couple thousand after insurance kicked in (thank you!).

Real Life Examples…

Since one of my commenters actually said they regretted purchasing health coverage while abroad, I tried searching the Web today to see if I could find examples of times when people had wished that they had coverage on their trips. You can see plenty of examples of when people were happy they had the coverage over on the World Nomads site.

Instead of finding that, I did run across a couple of great articles and blog posts that anyone debating getting health coverage during travel should consider.

Overseas Travel Insurance: Why You Need It and When You Don’t

But when disaster strikes – and it can indeed strike, as I have been witness to more than once – those travel insurance premiums may seem tiny in comparison to the medical bills you could be faced with.

This article was written by Nora Dunn, a popular traveler who discusses the ins and outs of the travel insurance world and just why she has been thankful to have it.

The real find was probably the article over on Hole in the Donut:


The article itself is a great read, but what I truly love are some of the comments. Here are some bits and pieces:

Without the inexpensive travel insurance policy I had purchased before leaving the U.S., I would have been out almost $2,000 in hospital and other medical bills.

Only now I can tell you how glad I am we made this decision after a $ 950 emergency root canal occurred in New Zealand which I ended it up pay only the excess fee of $50, phew!

Just because you buy travel insurance, head off and nothing happens isn’t the point. That’s great. Really. But consider how many policies we have to sell to cover the US$159,000 to get the guy out of Costa Rica who was jogging along a footpath when he had a brain aneurism? Or (yesterday) how the girl who got typhoid high up in Nepal and needed a helicopter.

However, I would always recommend people ensure they have comprehensive medical coverage. Emergency treatment might be available in a host country, but if you’re going to be recuperating from a multiple fractures after jumping off a cliff into way-too-shallow water in Jamaica, you’ll be wanting to do that back in your home country. 🙂

(the Jamaica story was a real situation I encountered while working in customer service for a health insurance company)

Have I sparked a chord with you on-the-fence readers yet? There are plenty of companies to assist with your health coverage needs.

I like to think that getting health coverage is just logic.

But what do I know?! I’m just a silly little germaphobic girl from the Midwest of the USA, otherwise known as the insurance company capital of the States, who didn’t have her first curry until she was 16 and was never taught to eat properly with both a fork and a knife until college. That’s me… who are you?

If you are someone who feels strongly about not needing health coverage abroad, tell me who you are, where you’re from, your age and whatever else you care to share.


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23 Responses to Day 102: We’re All Passionate People When It Comes to Travel Health Care

  1. Melissa April 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Awesome post, Brooke!

    I will always get health insurance for extended trips now thanks to my latest experience while in Australia (yeah… I’m now back in Canada…booo!!). It included me contracting campylobacter enteritis, basically a food poisoning due to contaminated meat, which resulted in worse than salmonella-poisoning like symptoms, a 4 night/5day stay at St. Vincent Hospital in Melbourne and my credit card having a whopping $2100 added to it. (Thank goodness I have a travel rewards visa, at least I’ll get tons of points- for free, after I get money back from the insurance company!) It was a really good thing though that I did get the full travel coverage with my dad’s insurance company before I left Canada. It was funny because a week before I ended up in the hospital I was thinking to myself, “I haven’t even used my travel insurance, maybe it was a waste of $450.” Then bam!

    If I’m gone for a week or two, I probably won’t bother getting travel insurance — then again it would probably depend on where I’m going and what I’m doing.

    And PS…I am a Mac user 😉

    • Brooke April 14, 2011 at 11:14 am #

      Oh Melissa, that sounds horrible. What is it with everyone getting food poisoning in Australia?! (gross over-generalization) When I was sick back in December, it lasted a week. I didn’t go the hospital, but there was a couple days where we thought I might have to… luckily Pat’s dad is a GP and we can consult with him on a range of medical issues from time to time.

  2. Adam @ SitDownDisco April 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    I always get travel insurance. Always have, probably always will. I actually thought it was stupid not to until a friend of mine who I really respect says he doesn’t… And without debating that with him, I find myself in the position where I think not getting health insurance is not the the end of the world… Just don’t complain to the embassy when they won’t repatriate you if you’re in an accident.

    One last thing, I had a motorbike accident in Bali once… I was driving without a licence so insurance didn’t cover me, but my wife at the time was badly injured and insurance coverage would have been good…

  3. Rosann April 14, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    I’m one of those Americans who travels frequently and actually have never thought of getting travel insurance. I don’t have health insurance while in the States and have raised my children without insurance for many of the years of their childhood. My children have been to more than 15 countries. Guess my head is in the sand. Your article gave me something to think about. Seriously – I’m not being sarcastic. I’ve just never thought about it.

    • Brooke April 14, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      Rosann, wow… I think from your comment it means that your family has been lucky and had no huge health/medical issues. That’s awesome, but I’m glad this has made you think about it differently as well 🙂

  4. Amy April 14, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    For smaller trips, I’ve never done any sort of travel insurance, and I’ve been lucky. When I studied abroad in college, it was mandatory that we have travel health insurance. Luckily I did, because I ended up with aspiration pneumonia from a surfing incident! It took a month and 3 doctors visits to determine what happened. Without the insurance, it would have cost me a LOT more. Luckily the visits were covered and the medication wasn’t super expensive. My mom probably spent more money on prescriptions from home and posting them to Australia at the quickest rate possible! 🙂

    From now on, insurance will be a must on travel trips. I’ve known (and read about) too many people with incidents – it’s just safer to plan ahead.

  5. Neil April 14, 2011 at 3:42 am #

    If you shop smart, travel insurance is ridiculously cheap…I think I paid about $200 for 6 months of coverage. So I can’t imagine a good reason not to get it.

    However, a few things about your post stand out:
    “Being from America, I know how much money it costs to be treated for even the most minor issues.”
    Actually, you know how much it costs in America. Most insurance plans have a rate for trips that include travel to the US or Japan and another rate for trips that don’t. There’s a reason for that: Americans are being ripped off on health care (and Japan is just expensive). Just as one point of comparison: Dental care is not covered by my government insurance plan, and I paid $600 for a root canal.

    I’ve only needed medical care once while traveling, and the $50 hospital charge in Romania (which I’m pretty sure the nurse and doctor just split and pocketed) wasn’t worth claiming. But there’s no doubt that a bigger problem that required evacuation to another country or something would be well worth the insurance cost, which is why I bought it. Now, since I take shorter holidays instead of packing everything up for the long haul, I can just use my global health coverage from work, which makes life easier.

    • Brooke April 14, 2011 at 6:42 am #

      I was pointing out the America stuff to show where I’m coming from and why insurance is important to me (also good for anyone traveling to the USA). Abroad, yes, it may cost less, but it’s still not cheap in some places. My friend had a root canal here in Sydney and it was over $2k.

  6. Amanda April 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    When it comes to ANY type of insurance, I am ALWAYS in the “better safe than sorry” camp. I understand the relatively healthy people who feel like they can survive without insurance (at home or abroad) in order to save some money. But I will never be one of them. Even after I graduated college and struggled to find a real job, I still made sure to have SOME kind of health coverage. You just never know. You could be the healthiest person on earth, and get hit by a car on your way to work.

    When I book plane tickets (especially expensive ones), I usually tack on the insurance — just in case.

    And, when I go to New Zealand for 2 weeks next month, I’m probably going to get some sort of insurance to cover me over there, since I’m taking my computer (A MAC! 😉 ), and will probably be throwing myself off of at least one bridge.

    Call me a worry wort, I don’t care. I’d just rather not regret not being covered later. I’m too poor not to be covered!

    • Brooke April 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

      I’m with you, Amanda! And woohoo for NZ!

  7. bethany April 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Something from the memory bin: Back in the old BnA days I remembered reading about a girl who had slept in a hostel with bed bugs. It was bad, REALLY bad. I remembered feeling bad for her after seeing the wounds. I had no idea bed bugs could be so horrible.

    Worse than that was just a couple years ago my cousins friend went to Belize for a quick trip. He got meningitis. The bad kind. the kind that kills you in 48 hours. He never made it home – well at least not alive.

    I worry about the random things too but I have to limit how much I think of them. I try instead to think if I get some weird disease and die that it was just my time. Morbid yes but it keeps me traveling. That and having some protection of health care on the road and at home. But I WISH i could drop my US insurance while traveling because that one is the big money suck. Given my past that is not a possibility – at least the travel insurance is cheap!

    It is definitely scary on a certain level but the other thing I remind myself is that I could get a strange disease at home in the US too. I mean seriously if there is something to pick up, I am destined to get it. hahaha…

    Wow that is super gross about staph and food – yick!! I had no idea. Not that I like hair in my food but wow, that is just nasty, nasty!

    The good news about staph too is you won’t necessarily get it bad. Randy used to get it frequently but it was nothing. He never even had to do anything – it would just go away on it’s own. No big deal for him.

    • Brooke April 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

      There’s so much crazy stuff in this world, seriously man. It doesn’t keep me from traveling obviously, but the thought of it is what gets me. Maybe I have too much time on my hands? Time for a trip I guess 🙂

  8. Alouise April 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    All of my travels have been short enough that I could using my existing medical insurance for work. But I’m going to be quitting my job before I go to Mexico in May, so I’ll definitely be getting some time of insurance. Anything can happen, and being a little extra prepared isn’t a bad idea,

    • Brooke April 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

      Not a bad idea at all – glad to hear you’ll be getting some insurance 🙂

  9. Codruta April 15, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Hey Brooke! I have a weird feeling this post has something to do with my comment a couple of days ago. If it’s true, then I’m flattered 😉

    So I’ll explain my background and where I ”come from”.

    First off, it really depends where you go. If I went to Australia, Africa or countries like India, I would probably get it, at least if it’s the first time I’ve been on the continent. If I feel like it’s safe enough, I might not get it for the second time. But for Europe or Asia (since I’ve been there), and definitely NA, there’s no point – I know my way around, and the chances of me actually getting sick to the point of needing expensive healthcare (at 21 yrs old) are very very very slim.

    And all those great examples of when you need health insurance because you have to pay thousands of dollars – think about it: Insurance companies DO make profit, and a good one at that. Why? Because 99% of the time, 99% of the people do NOT claim anything off their health insurance, because they don’t need to – nothing happens to them. And while it is great for those that need to claim it – the truth is that it is far more probable you won’t need to than that you will. Just mathematically…. chances are like 0.00001% or something.

    I’ve been in a minor motorcycle incident in the Philippines and hurt my toe – but didn’t go to the doctor, as I took care of it for 2$ myself. As I said, I had a dentist issue that cost me 90 euros once, during a whole GAP year in Europe – and my insurance was 200$.

    I come from Romania – and my grandma taught me very early on how to deal with minor health issues or accidents, I guess that helps. I’ve got doctors in the family that can help me with a phone call. And now I live in Canada, who BTW has a TERRIBLE wait even for emergencies – but at least we get health insurance while in the country (and a crappy one at that from my POV, most doctors here are dumb and only take a superficial look at your symptoms, are glad to give you any diagnosis to get rid of you, and all that after 10 yrs of school and practice.)

  10. Tony April 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    I never travel without travel insurance. I think the whole anything could happen argument wins me over.

    I was quite amused a couple of years ago when I was reading the insurance section of a company running tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. It said something like you can’t get insurance to these countries but neither can we. We’re all in the same boat was their selling point!

  11. Nancy @Family on Bikes April 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    I’ve written this whole thing up somewhere, but can’t seem to find it now… The basic gist of it is that my husband was a very healthy sort of guy. The one who took off every weekend to do a 100-mile bike ride. The one who could leave me in the dust in a heartbeat.

    But that all changed in a heartbeat – quite literally. One day, for a variety of reasons but mostly a fluke, his heart went in to arrythmia – in other words it wasn’t beating properly and was just sorta flopping around in his chest. In that heartbeat he went from being fit and strong to gasping for air just walking to the bathroom.

    Long story short – he collapsed, was put in the ICU in Ethiopia (where we lived at the tie), and eventually evacuated out to Israel in an air ambulance where they were able to take care of the problem and restore the man to his former glory.

    Total cost? I’m not sure, but the air ambulance alone came to $90,000. Nearly 100 grand for a 7 hour airplane ride. And doesn’t even count 9 days in an Israeli hospital.

    Yup – you’d have to be crazy to travel without insurance.


    • Brooke April 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

      Wow, Nancy, what a story. Glad to hear everything worked out OK and that your husband got back to working order, but that airlift — outrageous. We all know that our bodies are fragile and are bound to give in, but we just don’t know when or where as your story shows.

    • Megan April 20, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      This is why, at the very least, I think people should buy evac insurance! I do agree that us Americans are more insurance-minded because we have learned the hard way at home what a difference it can make.

  12. Shaun April 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    Hi Brooke

    I always get travel insurance when I travel. I read a great quote that stated “If you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel”. I believe this is very true why get stuck with a huge medical bill.

    PS I’m of to the US in June and yes got my insurance sorted already 🙂


    • Brooke April 18, 2011 at 8:45 am #

      That’s a great quote! Ooh I’ll be in the US in June as well – where you headed?

      • Shaun April 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

        Honolulu, Miami. Las Vegas, Denver, and Boston. Where are you going?


  13. Kaylin March 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    I know this is an older post but I just came across it on twitter. I am also American and lived in the US without insurance for over 3 years. I literally just could not afford it. My mom is disabled and my dad is self/un-employed (and a deadbeat, but that’s another story) so neither of them had insurance through work I could be added to either. I was 19-22 years old when I didn’t have insurance and yes, maybe I was a little cocky because I was young and healthy. I still had to go to the doctor at least once a year for lady business checkups, but I paid out of pocket, which ended up being cheaper still.
    However, any time I have been out of the country since then I definitely get travel insurance. I didn’t really travel at all during that time I was uninsured at home, except on study abroads but I had scholarships/grants to cover all the fees, including travel insurance.
    I currently teach overseas and am covered by the gov’t plan here, but when I travel beyond that, I always get insurance now. Maybe it is just from me getting a little older and wiser, but I’m less risky. For example, my school vacation I went to SE Asia so I got extra insurance for that. What I usually do is, If you buy a round-trip plane ticket from some websites like orbitz, etc. usually they will offer a basic package which includes repatriation of remains, coverage for luggage items, and basic doctor’s care (with a small excess/deductible), for around $50-60. I figure I’m already paying $500+ for a plane ticket, may as well tack on that extra $50. I’ve never had to use it so far but it’s reassuring to know I have it when I get it.

    I know some countries, it is worth looking into reciprocal health agreements between your countries. The US doesn’t qualify since it doesn’t have a national health plan, but from what I understand Australia/NZ/Canada/UK have an agreement where citizens from these countries can get the same coverage they would at home when visiting the other countries. It may have to do with the whole commonwealth thing, I’m not sure.

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