Travelers Insurance vs. COBRA
November 14, 2007 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Can you buy travelers/vacation insurance for a domestic (within the US) trip? Is it dangerous to have traveler's insurance and not traditional health insurance for one month?

We leave our jobs November 30. We will be spending the month of December, unemployed, staying at the family vacation house in Vermont. We will be skiing and other potentially dangerous activities. We begin working in Montreal January 1. We could get COBRA coverage from work to the tune of $850. I was wondering if we could just buy a month's worth of travelers insurance instead (with sufficient health/medical coverage). It would save us a good deal of money. Is there something I'm missing?
posted by picklebird to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Response by poster: And if you have any recommendations for travelers insurance companies, let me have 'em.
posted by picklebird at 3:40 PM on November 14, 2007

Some travel insurance policies are terminated if you are changing residences rather than going on a trip.
posted by grouse at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Some questions immediately spring to mind:

Will you be covered by health insurance starting Jan. 1? (I know you're moving to Canada, but don't know if that means you qualify for national health care the day you start work or what.)

Does traveler's insurance cover any and all medical-related expenses that you might incur during that period? (I mean, aside from an injury on the ski slopes or something. What if you have appendicitis? What if you get very ill, go to the emergency room, and you're diagnosed with a totally non-travel related illness or condition?)

Does it reimburse you immediately, or -- more likely -- do you have to cover all the costs upfront, then get reimbursed later? (Not so bad if you just need a couple of stitches, but could be incredibly expensive and difficult if one of you has a major injury requiring surgery and/or hospitalization.) On this point, keep in mind that health insurance companies have a negotiated rate with hospitals for procedures. Say you break your leg; the hospital might wind up billing the insurance company a discounted rate of, say, $1000 for all related expenses (this is a totally made-up number, just to make my point), of which you would only have to pay your share per the terms of your policy. But without medical insurance, the hospital can charge you the full amount of, say, $3000.

Will your subsequent insurance cover any pre-existing condition that may have occured during your period on traveler's insurance? (Again, say you're injured while skiing on Dec. 10, but will need physical therapy come January. Will the post-Jan. 1 insurance cover it if you weren't covered by COBRA on Dec. 10?)
posted by scody at 3:52 PM on November 14, 2007

Oh yeah, scody reminded me of one more thing in my travel insurance policy that may be relevant—it does not cover any sort of pre-existing condition whatsoever. And excludes all sorts of other stuff, for example, injury caused by alcohol use.
posted by grouse at 3:59 PM on November 14, 2007

scody has a good point. Provincial health care typically requires a waiting period before coverage kicks in. Googling found this which suggests that you may have to wait up to three months in Quebec. The ministry recommends you obtain private coverage within five days after arriving in Quebec to cover yourself throughout the waiting period. I don't know if this is something you can only obtain in Quebec or maybe that COBRA stuff can help you here.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:12 PM on November 14, 2007

BC also has one waiting for three months before being eligible for health insurance coverage, and I think that's the case across Canada. If you haven't, check with your employer about coverage for those first three months.

As for travel insurance, I know that sometimes coverage doesn't include sports-related activities where risk in involved (e.g. scuba diving, bungee jumping, etc). If you do go with travel insurance for health coverage, I'd ask the insurer *specifically* about skiing and document their response.
posted by Nelsormensch at 4:34 PM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Also, you have a certain period of time to elect cobra (I believe 60 days after you receive notice from your employer, or at termination of coverage, whichever is later. see here So you could wait and see if you need it while you're gone.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2007

dpx.mfx is correct according to what I've been told. COBRA can apply retroactively. That is, if something happens before you sign up for COBRA, you can sign up for it afterwards and you are covered (if you're in the 60 days window).

So, if you want to save money, don't sign up for it unless you end up needing it.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:05 PM on November 14, 2007

Every travel medical insurance policy I've had requires that you have regular insurance as well, and only covers your medical expenses outside your home country, and only up to the point where they can get you home for further treatment (at which point your regular insurance kicks in) if it's major. It's always been pretty cheap though (like $1/day or so). This is in BC, FWIW.
posted by Emanuel at 5:31 PM on November 14, 2007

I've never heard of travel insurane that would cover things that are normally covered by standard health insurance; I thought that the purpose of travel insurance was basically for the kind of stuff that your regular insurance doesn't cover (being medevac'ed from some third-world country, having your body flown home, etc.). I don't think it's a replacement for regular coverage.

To be safe, and prevent a gap in coverage (which at least in the U.S. is a bad, bad thing) I would buy COBRA. Or if COBRA isn't going to cover your trip plus the three months that it's going to take in Canada for you to be covered under their nationalized system, maybe just get a private policy.

It's going to be expensive, but it's better than being uninsured. IMO, anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:09 PM on November 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! FWIW, our new jobs do provide private insurance coverage in Quebec during the 3 month wait.

But you have all convinced me that travelers insurance is not the way to go. dpx.mpx is correct that we can apply the COBRA retroactively (within 60 days), and not pay upfront but only if we needed it.

Another option would be to just get short-term health insurance for one month (our same insurance provider even has one of these plans). It comes with a high deductible (either $500 or $1000) but it's about 1/3 the price. We would be willing to take our chances on that. Anyone used one of these?
posted by picklebird at 4:17 AM on November 15, 2007

I know a few people who have used temporary insurance policies. In fact, my significant other has one right now. His is a $2500 deductible, but it's all of $36/month. They only last for 6 months, and if you have something bad happen, they won't let you renew the policy, but you'll have employer coverage by then, so I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by booizzy at 9:01 AM on November 15, 2007

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