Guide to Domestic Traveling with Health Insurance


WRITTEN BY: Craig Sturgill

UPDATED: JULY 26, 2022 | 3 MIN READ

Traveling with health insurance can be tricky. Medical bills that aren’t covered by insurance can financially haunt patients for years. Unfortunately, insurance issues and mishaps reduce healthcare costs to the maximum.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) found that people in the United States owe at least $195 billion in medical debt.

Usually, we don’t think much about our insurance once it is in place. But what about when you’re traveling? On trips, you are not immune to health issues and accidents.

Most hospitals won’t accept your insurance internationally, but what about domestically? If traveling within the United States, consider whether your health insurance will cover you while you’re out of state.

Traveling Domestically: Insurance Covers Emergencies

Traveling through the states is not the time to get a regular check-up. Your plan is unlikely to cover any health issue that isn’t an emergency.

If you have a non-emergent issue and want to be covered by insurance, wait until you get home to schedule that appointment.

In most cases, your insurance plan must pay for emergencies, regardless of the hospital you go to. Even if the doctors are outside of your network, your insurance company will likely cover it. 

However, you should check with your health insurance company to determine their process for paying out-of-state claims. Some companies require the patient to pay out of pocket and submit receipts for reimbursement.

The problem is: What’s considered an emergency?

There’s no concrete definition of “emergency.” Before you travel, ask your insurance company what they consider an “emergency.” Each insurance company will differ in the coverage it offers. It’s better to ask your insurance company and know before any accidents happen while you’re traveling. 

Travel and Health Insurance: Try to Keep Your Costs In-Network 

Each health insurance plan has a “network” of providers, which lowers your health care costs if you’re within that network. When you’re being treated for a life-threatening emergency, no matter where you are, usually the care will be covered as in-network. 

With life-threatening issues, insurance companies know no one (including you) can pause to ensure you’re still in-network. That’s why usually, during these emergencies, you’ll automatically be considered in-network.

However, as we said before, each insurance company has its definition of an “emergency.” If you receive out-of-network care for an issue your insurance company doesn’t consider an emergency, you’ll have to shoulder a significant percentage of the costs.

If you have an issue that isn’t a life-threatening emergency while traveling domestically, contact your provider for more information on what care is in your network. That way, you can still lower your healthcare costs.

Aloha: Traveling from Hawaii?

If you have a life-threatening emergency in 49 states, it is likely to be covered. The one state that is the exception is Hawaii.

If you are covered in Hawaii and traveling the states, you need to let your insurance plan know before traveling to receive emergency health coverage.

If you travel domestically from Hawaii but fail to inform your insurance plan, your emergency care won’t be covered.

However, this is only true for adults. Children will be covered due to Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) requirements. Children are covered for all emergencies, no matter where they are in the states.

This emergency coverage exception of Hawaii only applies to people living there. If you’re traveling TO Hawaii, your plan will most likely cover your emergency medical care while you’re there. 

What About Travel Insurance?

As you’re researching domestic health insurance coverage, you’ll find a lot of information about travel insurance. What is it? How does it differ from health insurance? Do you need it?

Travel insurance is not the same as health insurance. However, travel insurance does expand the coverage you’ll receive on healthcare costs. Health insurance only covers emergency care when you’re traveling. However, travel insurance works in addition to that insurance to cover even more healthcare costs. 

Travel insurance can supplement medical costs if you get sick or injured. This is useful because you can get covered for issues that aren’t life-threatening emergencies.

Travel insurance also covers other financial issues. For example, if you lose your bags or miss a flight. Healthcare coverage is only part of travel insurance but can help lower medical costs.

Affordable Health Insurance: Should I Get Extra Coverage?

If you travel a lot, it’s wise to get extra health insurance coverage. This is known as “supplemental accident coverage,” which helps cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs that your insurance company won’t pay.

Keep in mind: Accident coverage is always in addition to, not a replacement of, health insurance.

Supplemental accident coverage can help you avoid debt for costs that aren’t life-threatening but are still an issue that needs to be taken care of immediately. The benefit of supplemental accident coverage is that it can cover you no matter where you are. 

This coverage will cover a lot, but not everything. Here are some common examples that are often excluded from supplemental accident coverage:

  • Injuries before you purchased the policy
  • Injuries from sickness or disease
  • Reckless exposure to danger
  • Self-inflicted injuries
  • Injuries sustained while under the influence of certain drugs or alcohol
  • Injuries sustained while committing a crime

If you avoid the above incidences, you can rely on supplemental accident coverage to help you handle your healthcare costs while traveling.

Plus, it won’t bump up your insurance costs too much. The price varies but typically stays between $5 and $50 per month.

This extra accident coverage is especially important if you’re traveling domestically. For example, if you travel for work or live in a van.

Can a Catastrophic Plan Provide More Coverage?

Another option to increase your coverage if you travel a lot is to switch to catastrophic coverage. You can only get this type of medical plan if you are under 30 years old or if you qualify for financial aid (at any age). These plans have low monthly premiums but very high deductibles.

These plans aren’t meant to be used often. They’re for people who don’t expect to visit the doctor’s office often. Catastrophic plans are not for people who need to visit the doctor frequently.

For example, if you have diabetes and need consistent care, this plan is not meant for you. 

Catastrophic plans cover preventative services and emergencies, and they can be more generous with out-of-state and out-of-network expenses. If you travel a lot, it’s worth considering switching to a catastrophic plan.

Travel Domestically Worry-Free

When you’re traveling domestically, it can be worrisome when you’re thinking about healthcare coverage. You don’t want an accident on a fun trip to send you into years of medical debt. 

If you’re traveling soon, call and ask what ” emergencies ” services are.” Don’t hesitate to consider supplemental accident coverage or switching to a catastrophic plan if you want more coverage.

Also, take a minute to get quotes on different health plans for your family to ensure you have the coverage you need.