Travel health insurance
Health insurance, hospitals, and other health concerns while traveling abroad
A few health insurance plans (like Blue Cross/Blue Shield) will actually cover hospital expenses abroad—but only at approved hospitals (ask in advance for a list). Otherwise, it might be best to purchase a separate travel health insurance plan.
How much does travel health insurance cost?
As a ballpark: Health insurance coverage for a couple in their 40s on a two-week trip costs from $45 to $116.
Shopping for travel health insurance
The quickest, easiest, and most economical way to find travel health insurance is to use the comparison shopping sites:
You put in your trip details, it quickly shows you a side-by-side analysis of how much a policy would cost at each of 16 major travel insurers such as Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com) and World Nomads (www.worldnomads.com).
Medical evacuation and assistance insurance
If all you want is the assurance you would be able to get home quickly in the event of a medical emergency, consider signing up for medical evacuation insurance.
These programs are really intended more for travel to the developing world, where medical establishments may not be quite up to par. However, some people like the comfort of knowing they can get out of Dodge quickly from anywhere with any medical problem or medical emergency (like the time my brother-in-law needed to come home from Paris for surgery following an accident—don't worry, he's fine).
What's it like to get sick on the road?
Much of Europe enjoys at least partially socialized medicine, you can generally just pop into a hospital and get taken care of with no fuss, minimal paperwork, and no bill to pay (or at least an extremly modest one you can usually cover out of pocket). I love it.
Should you have a more serious problem requiring serious hospital care, very few personal health insurance plans will cover you (with most, being out of the country puts you extermely "out of network"). A few will, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield (though even then only at cerain hospitals and with other severe restrictions and limitations). Those legal thieveries known as HMOs are the most heinous culprits in denying car abroad. Medicare/Medicaid are also largely useless outside of the U.S. Check with your provider.
For big, billable hospital stays, most care centers will bill you up front then leave it up to you and your insurance carrier to settle the costs. This is where travel health insurance (or medical evacuation insurance) can come in handy.