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I Don’t Have Health Insurance. What Happens If I Catch Coronavirus While Traveling?

don't have insurance coronavirus covid-19

“If someone has no health insurance, he/she should not travel,” one Flyertalker concisely put it. “Priorities. This was true even before COVID-19.” But, priorities don’t always come into play when a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity in the form of a plane ticket that’s cheaper than a cable bill comes calling. Especially for young, intrepid and uninsured travelers (especially now that universities are extending spring breaks).

But, if the worst happens while you’re traveling and uninsured, what do you do? Fortunately, the world’s largest community of expert flyers has the inside scoop on what is likely to happen if an uninsured tourist happens to become infected.


If You Get the Coronavirus While You’re Traveling Abroad

You May Be Covered While You’re There

In the developed world, being uninsured or underinsured seems to be a uniquely American problem. If you’re traveling in the first world, you’ll likely enjoy the benefits of universal healthcare and consumer protections offered by the country that you’re in.

However, depending on the individual country’s rules, hospitals and doctors still might pursue payment after treatment.

FYI: Travel Insurance Is Cheaper Than Health Insurance

If you’re not medically insured, being travel insured is an affordable alternative when on the road. Plus, travel insurance has the added benefit of protecting you from a number of out-of-pocket expenses should the pandemic disrupt travel plans.

And Medical Evacuation Insurance Could Save Your Life

If you develop serious coronavirus symptoms, you may be better off in an expensive US hospital rather than, say an overstretched facility in Italy or India–at least for the time being. In that case, FlyerTalkers recommend these travel evacuation insurance policies. Some will air lift you home or to the hospital of your choice at no cost if you’re uncomfortable with the level of care where you are.

Unfortunately, you’ll likely be on your own to handle the cost of your treatment once you land.


If You Get the Coronavirus While You’re Traveling in the US

What to know if you go to the ER

“My local hospital is huge and most of the doctors are from the nearby medical school. their emergency room does take everybody, as is required by law. However, they will only treat ‘emergencies,’” one longtime Flyertalk member explained. “For example, someone comes in with a broken arm. they will do an x-ray, wrap or put a cast on the arm (assuming no other external wounds), then kick the patient out with a local orthopedic surgeon’s business card …

If it’s coronavirus instead of a broken bone, I wonder what the same ER will do. I guess they’ll have no choice but to treat and quarantine that patient? (then send the patient a nice big $10,000 or $20,000 bill?)”

It’s a statement that seems to predict this Tweet from earlier this week:

And the bill could be… expensive. Take, for example, the case of a New Yorker who reportedly received a bill in excess of $10,000 for the emergency room service of simply being told that NYC residents did not qualify for COVID-19 testing or treatment

A Possible Loophole

There may be one surprising way that an uninsured traveler might avoid an insurmountable medical bill – if the patient is ordered by the federal government to receive treatment. Consider this post from a Flyertalker exploring possible treatment options for the uninsured.

I kid you not… I decided to call the ER and ask. The lady was very nice, but vague. She told me to look on Reddit. (yes, that Reddit) So I went and look… this is the Reddit thread she told me to look at… it says: ‘Title 42, U.S. Code § 249, provides that any person detained in accordance with quarantine laws may be treated and cared for by the U.S. Public Health Service. Furthermore, such persons may, in accordance with regulations, receive care and treatment at the expense of the Service from public or private medical or hospital facilities other than those of the Service.’ Is the ER implying that someone it such situation should hope to be detained and quarantined by the US government?”

Other very frequent flyers expressed doubt that the rules would stop hospitals from sending a bill anyway. The regulations also appear to require an explicit and specific directive from public health officials before treatment is covered.

Feds to the Rescue?

Under pressure from a lawmaker, during congressional testimony, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield promised that the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment would be covered. As of press time, however, the promise remains just that: a promise. Conflicting information and clarifications have since made this less of a guarantee.

Following an Oval Office address on Wednesday, insurance industry officials corrected President Trump’s assertion that insurers had agreed to waive copays for COVID-19 testing and treatment. An industry spokesperson clarified that the agreement currently only applies to testing and not to treatment.

Although the administration has floated the idea of making COVID-19 testing free to the uninsured, the move would likely require some sort of action by both houses of Congress. An emergency legislation package remained stalled in the Senate early Friday.

Is staying at home the responsible option for the uninsured? Flyertalkers are sharing the best strategies for navigating healthcare systems around the globe right now in the “If someone has no health insurance gets the coronavirus on a plane, what can she do?” thread.


dvs7310 March 17, 2020

These young intrepid uninsured travelers that you're referring to very likely don't need treatment anyway. While it may be good advice for people with compromised immune systems to avoid travel, a normally healthy young adult has very little to worry about as the virus should clear on it's own in due time.

geezersrule March 13, 2020

prey on whom? maybe pray?

Bluecardholder March 13, 2020

I would prey.