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While most of us tend to feel younger than we are — and are likely to be healthier and more fit than our parents were at our age — there’s no denying that it’s prudent for older travelers to think about purchasing travel health insurance coverage before taking a trip, especially when venturing outside the US. The odds of getting sick or having to address a chronic medical issue while traveling increase as we age.

At age 65 and older, many US citizens are eligible for Medicare (read about the eligibility requirements here). Medicare, however, does not cover health care services or supplies for recipients traveling outside the country, except in rare cases.

There are three ways Medicare-eligibles can get health coverage while traveling abroad. Some specific Medigap policies (Medicare supplement insurance) provide this type of coverage. Travelers need to assess the type of Medigap policy they have and the specific circumstances under which coverage is provided. There’s also Medicare Advantage and other Medicare programs (as opposed to Original Medicare) that may provide such coverage. Again, travelers need to determine the specifics of the coverage offered by their plans. But if neither of the above applies, older travelers should consider purchasing a travel insurance policy that provides health coverage.

We asked Stan Sandberg, co-founder of the travel insurance comparison site TravelInsurance.com, some health insurance questions that commonly arise for older travelers. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Related: Is Credit Card Travel Insurance Sufficient?

In general, how does age affect the cost of travel insurance?

Stan Sandberg: Similar to other actuarial-based insurance products, the older you are, the more costly your insurance will be. This is true both for medical-only plans and for trip cancellation insurance. The good news is that the travel health insurance cost increases related to age aren’t as great as you might expect — especially if you are healthy with no pre-existing conditions.

A sample of 23 products we offer on TravelInsurance.com shows an average price increase of just under $85 for an 85-year-old versus an 80-year-old. For healthy buyers the same ages without a pre-existing condition, the increase is less than $35. And based on a $2,000 trip (looking across the same 23 products), the average premium for a comprehensive travel insurance plan, including trip cancellation coverage, is $109.25 for a 50-year-old; $140.90 for a 60-year-old; and $183.99 for a 70-year-old. So the increase is about 30% from ages 50 to 60, and about 30% from ages 60 to 70.

Do all, or some, policies have age limits?

Some policies, in particular travel medical policies, have an age limit. But for most trip cancellation policies, travelers won’t start seeing fewer plans until they celebrate their 101st birthday!

What is the difference between annual travel insurance policies and single trip insurance for older travelers?

Annual plans cover multiple trips taken during a one-year period. Irrespective of age, however, the coverage limits of annual plans are cumulative, so a traveler could theoretically exhaust the benefits with a single claim on a first trip. Since seniors often have more time to travel, annual plans can be attractive to those who travel more than four times a year. But potential purchasers should carefully compare the costs and coverage of an annual plan with those offered as Medicare supplements.

What about obtaining insurance when you have pre-existing medical conditions? Is there any way around such exclusions?

Most policies exclude losses that stem from a pre-existing condition. (A pre-existing condition is defined as any prior injury, illness, disease or other type of medical condition for which a person sought care in the six to 12 month period prior to the effective date of the policy.) However, some policies offer a “pre-existing condition exclusion waiver” that allows coverage of pre-existing conditions. To qualify, purchasers must meet certain requirements. These typically include:

  • Purchasing the travel insurance policy within a defined time period (usually seven to 21 days from when the initial payment for the trip was made.)
  • Travelers need to insure 100% of their pre-paid and nonrefundable trip costs.

We recommend that travelers speak to a licensed agent and read the fine print before purchasing a policy with an exclusion waiver.

Senior couple cruising. Photo by GreenPimp / Getty Images.
Senior couple cruising. Photo by GreenPimp / Getty Images.

What do travelers who do a lot of cruising need to know about travel health insurance?

Most travel insurance plan benefits apply to cruisers and non-cruisers alike, but some plans will have certain benefits [like] returning to land for medical evacuation that are designed specifically for cruisers. 

What additional protections does trip cancellation and interruption insurance offer?

Although it adds to the cost, this option can cover the reimbursement of trip costs due to a range of unexpected circumstances — from last-minute illnesses to severe weather and natural disasters.

A Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) upgrade offers the most flexibility, reimbursing up to 75% of total trip costs for a cancellation of any reason up to 48 hours prior to trip departure. This benefit also has to be purchased within seven to 21 days of the initial trip payment and 100% of pre-paid and nonrefundable trip costs need to be insured.

What is medical evacuation insurance? What does it cover?

Generally speaking, emergency medical evacuation coverage will pay for transportation to the nearest hospital or medical facility that can treat you if one is not available at your location.

The coverage may also cover Medical Repatriation or the cost of transportation back to the US when your condition improves and you’re cleared to travel home. Policies may also include coverage for transporting children home if you are hospitalized for an extended period. Or if you’re traveling alone, the coverage may pay to bring someone to your bedside if you have an extended hospital stay.

In the event of a death during a trip, some plans may also include Return of Remains coverage that would cover the cost of bringing back the deceased.

What are some other caveats to keep in mind when pricing travel health insurance?

Pricing can vary somewhat between states, so the state where you reside may affect pricing. And remember, even if you have coverage from a Medigap plan, it can have deductibles, lifetime coverage limits up to $50,000 and limitations on trip length.

If you are traveling in a group, you might ask the sponsor about the availability of group travel insurance. Group plans are designed for easy administration by a group leader, who manages member sign-ups and changes — and the pricing for group plans doesn’t change based on a traveler’s age.

Thus, for senior travelers, group policies may be more cost-effective compared to nongroup, individual policies. However, individual policies can have higher coverage limits and more options available if travelers want to tailor their coverage.

Related: The Best Credit Cards With Travel Protections

Bottom Line

Buying travel health insurance is complicated under any circumstances because it’s difficult to compare products (policies) from different insurers and wade through the fine print. But for older travelers — for whom the costs of insurance tends to be higher and the purchasing options fewer — these decisions can be daunting.

Of course, travelers always need to first understand the benefits and limitations of the health insurance policies they currently have in place (think: Medicare and private health insurance) to determine what additional coverage is necessary to protect their health as well as the financial investment in a trip.

Third-party insurance sites — like TravelInsurance.com, Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com — can help consumers compare the provisions and costs of different policies and, hopefully, avoid potential landmines.

Comparison sites like these offer consumers the ability to chat online, speak to agents by phone, and/or correspond by email after hours to help answer specific policy questions. In addition, the sites can help connect travelers with insurance providers in the unlikely event of the need to file a claim.

Feature photo by Hero Images / Getty Images.

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