Editors' pick: Originally published April 28.
As the Zika virus spreads across various countries and is predicted to intensify this summer, wary travelers who are planning to trot around in infected areas should check their health insurance coverage.
Globetrotters headed to Caribbean islands and countries in Central and South America along with the Pacific Islands, where the virus is now prevalent, should be aware of taking extra precautions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disease has been predicted to surge and spread to other countries this summer.
The first confirmed virus infections were in Brazil and outbreaks are continuing in various other countries since scientists have had not been able to determine how and when the virus will spread. The virus is spread through infected mosquitoes and currently there is not a vaccine to prevent it or cure it, the CDC said. Zika can also be spread by being exposed to an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
Travelers who are infected with the disease will be covered by their major medical health insurance plan for any treatments, said Nate Purpura, vice president of consumer affairs at eHealth, an online health insurance exchange based in Mountain View, Calif.
“It would be covered in the same way that medical care for the flu or for pneumonia is covered,” he said.
Overseas travelers should be prepared to pay upfront for their doctor’s visit and any treatments and submit a claim to be reimbursed.
“If you’re abroad when you get sick, save your paperwork and receipts since your health insurance plan may provide you with some coverage,” Purpura said.
Buying Travel Insurance
Purchasing travel insurance might be warranted if you will be on an extended trip. Standard health insurance plans will not pay for consumers to be evacuated from a foreign country “due to an outbreak of disease or other emergency,” but some plans so provide this coverage in certain circumstances, he said. “Travel insurance can also smooth out the billing and coverage issues involved with getting medical care overseas.”
Although one in eight Americans has their trip interrupted by events such as global health epidemics when they are traveling, only 29% purchased travel insurance, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association in Rockville, Md. Standard policies cost 5% to 7% of the total amount of the trip, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based non-profit insurance communications organization. Check your homeowner’s insurance and credit cards to see if it extends coverage to travel.
Purchasing travel insurance and adding a policy that allows people to cancel for any reason protects consumers, said Jim Krampen, co-founder of Seven Corners, a Carmel, Ind.-based travel protection company. The Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy covers any unforeseen events and issues which are not covered by your existing travel insurance or healthcare plan.
“Most travel insurance packages would not cover the Zika virus if you wanted to cancel your trip and this policy guards you against these unique situations, allowing you to cancel your trip up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive at least 75% of your trip cost back,” Krampen said.
Buying standard travel or trip cancellation insurance is not sufficient, because these policies do not cover global health epidemics like the Zika virus, said Krampen.
“Even customers who have purchased regular trip cancellation coverage would lose 100% of their trip cost if they cancelled their trip due to the Zika virus,” he said.
Basic travel medical insurance includes coverage for accidents, injuries or illnesses which occur during the vacation.
“Some policies even cover dental expenses and emergency medical evacuation if needed,” said Krampen. “Our insurance packages cover local ambulance fees and will even cover transportation costs of sending a minor home or transporting someone to your hospital bedside.”