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Linda Mundorff

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The Healthy Traveler – Are you in good hands (with your health insurance) while traveling?

September 2007
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

Last month I discussed the importance of a health inventory kit for each member of your family. If you have full health insurance coverage you probably feel very comfortable in knowing that if you get sick your insurance will pay for your medical bills. However in this month’s forum I want to discuss a growing concern related to non-covered benefits, and the first place to start is within your health insurance benefits booklet.

Your health benefits book is very important in that it lists what your insurance will cover and more importantly, what it won’t cover. Let’s look at a common dental emergency – a broken tooth. Do you have a regular dentist? Or, has it been years since your last dental check-up? What would you do? If this happened at home the solution would be fairly easy. You would either go online or call your insurance company and find out the name and number of a local participating dentist. But what if you were on vacation and this happened? Who would you see now? And more importantly, would your dental insurance cover this out-of-plan dentist?

In order to deal with this and other potential medical problems while traveling you have to arm yourself with knowledge. And the best way to do this is by reading and understanding your benefits handbook. Always keep a copy of your most up-to-date copy and review for any changes. Look specifically for out-of-plan care, such as medical care while on vacation. Does your insurance use a specific chain of hospitals? If so, then find out where those facilities are located along your travel route. Next, look for any changes to participating health care providers (for example, you don’t want to find out during an emergency that your doctor no longer takes your insurance). Also, if you find that a benefit is no longer covered then call your insurance company and find out if the change applies to new insurers only. And if the change does apply to you, did the insurance carrier send you a written notification of the change? By law your insurance carrier is obligated to notify you of any changes to your policy, in writing. This gives you an opportunity to look at other options before the changes take effect.

Before you leave on your trip also make sure that you have enough medical supplies and prescription medications to cover you while on vacation. For example, do you get your diabetic supplies for free? Perhaps the supplies are free as long as you visit your local HMO pharmacy. But what if you need medication or supplies while driving through Kansas? Today it is not as difficult to fill prescriptions especially if your plan covers the ever-growing and popular national drugstore chains like CVA, Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid and the like. But don’t assume that is the case, as many HMO’s are able to keep their costs down by having their subscribers fill prescriptions at their local HMO pharmacy. If this is the case, then inform your pharmacist that you’re traveling and request additional pills. Many have vacation policies that will do just that. But they won’t tell you; you have to ask about it.

Lastly, If you are taking your grandchildren along on a trip then you will need a notarized letter from their parent giving you permission to take them on vacation and you may need a temporary medical power of attorney giving you permission to make medical decisions for the child (ren) while on vacation (check with your attorney for more information on this). Remember to keep a copy of your benefit booklet, participating providers (in and out-of-state), insurance cards, and prescription information all in one handy and accessible place. With the Internet it is easier to correspond with medical providers and insurance companies. But with a little more planning and foresight you can rest assure that you are prepared in case of a medical concern or emergency. Prevention is the key. Be prepared and enjoy your traveling!

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases, nor be misinterpreted as a prescription. This information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaging in a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. In the author’s best judgment, the information and opinions expressed here are accurate and sound at the time of publication. Readers who rely on the information in this book as a replacement of the advice of a medical doctor assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions. Please consult your doctor before starting any alternative modalities.