Many full-time travelers dread open enrollment, when they have to sift through health insurance options. This is particularly hard if you’re a freelancer, or someone who constantly travels. How do you find coverage that works in all states? Do you need travelers insurance or Obamacare? What’s the difference between major medical, basic medical, and health sharing?
This is a topic that vexes us as well, so we wanted to write a post detailing the health insurance options for remote workers and full-time travelers. This post will mostly deal with people living or traveling in the United States. If you’re a world traveler, scroll to the very end for suggestions on travel insurance.
Major medical, basic medical and health sharing
When it comes to finding health insurance, there are three main options out there: major medical, basic medical and health sharing.
- Major medical: This is the classic health insurance offered through the Affordable Care Act. This care is the most expensive option, and also the one with the most benefits. Major medical covers more than just preventative care, doctor’s visits and surgeries. It often helps with prescription drug cost, mental health treatment, physical therapy, etc. One huge benefit of major medical is it caps your out-of-pocket spending. That means if you’re diagnosed with a major illness or need major surgery, you won’t go bankrupt.
- Basic medical: While cheaper than major medical, basic medical doesn’t cover nearly as much. According to Livestrong, Basic Medical is a cash reimbursement system that helps you pay for some – but not all – of your medical expenses. It usually covers preventative care, wellness checkups, some lab work and immunizations. It is easier to get approved for basic medical insurance, but there is no maximum out-of-pocket. If you’re only covered up to $10,000, for example, you have to pay for anything above and beyond if you have a major medical problem.
- Health-sharing services: Christian Health Cost Sharing Ministries have exploded in popularity in the past few years. Individuals and families put a certain amount into a pool every month, which is then used to cover the expenses of other members. Not everything is covered, though, and usually what is covered is within the realm of Christian values. Some ministries have annual or lifetime limits or restrictions on what they will cover. Often, people have to sign contracts that they won’t sue the ministry if they’re not happy with coverage.
What to think about when choosing health insurance
There are several things you need to think about before you decide on health insurance coverage. First of all, you should determine how much care you’ll need in a year. Are you the type of person who gets hurt often and needs frequent doctor’s visits? Are you on any prescription drugs? How much of a budget are you on? Do you only visit the doctor once per year? Do you only need preventative care and wellness help?
Once you think about your healthcare needs, then you want to ponder your budget. Plans with a higher deductible are often cheaper, as you’ll have to pay more out of pocket before your health insurance kicks in. If you’re really low income, you might be able to apply for Medicaid in your state, then add on some Basic Medical care that would pay for preventative care while you while you travel. More on how to get Basic Medical care below.
Also, if you’re a remote worker, try to lower your expenses as much as you can so you’re eligible for a government subsidy. Freelancers can often write off a lot of expenses, which makes your income lower. The lower your income, the more the federal government will subsidize your monthly premium through the Affordable Care Act.
Where to find major medical coverage
If you’re convinced you need major medical care through the Affordable Care Act, you’re confronted with sifting through your state’s healthcare exchange. We know that can be a real drag, which is why we recommend doing your search from the Stride Health platform.
Stride Health is a San Francisco startup that simplifies the process, and lays out options based on your zip code and income. You can then easily compare the options based on doctor’s visits, deductibles, co-pays and prescription benefits. Plus, you can call customer service anytime and someone will help you with claims, payment issues, or anything else you need help with. We’ve used Stride Health and love it, plus, it’s free!
Where to find basic medical coverage
The place we recommend going for basic medical coverage is The Escapees RV Club. Yes, you do have to be a member, but the Escapees recently partnered with the Independent Truckers Group to provide healthcare options for full-time travelers.
The plans offered to Escapees RV Club members are not major medical, which is important to keep in mind. However, the plans work all over the country – you’re not limited to one particular state or region.
We spoke with Theda Moseley, who manages the healthcare plans offered through The Escapees RV Club, and she gave several examples:
- My Health Pass Plus: At just $34.95 per month for an individual or $54.95 for a couple, this plan lets you call a doctor if you have an ailment that’s not an emergency. You can use this “TeleDoc” service to call in a prescription, and you also get 3 video calls per year. My Health Pass Plus also includes two in-home lab tests, assistance in finding cheaper prescription drugs, an 8-week video physical therapy program for back pain, and a 30-day supply of multi-vitamins every month.
- WellMEC Plan: The Well Mec plan rings in at $85 per month for an individual, and is for preventative care. You’ll get an annual checkup, immunizations and various screenings based on your medical history. WellMEC covers more than 60 wellness and preventative services required under the Affordable Care Act, and also includes TeleDoc services.
- HSP Plans: These plans come in three types, the HSP 3,6 and 9. What you choose depends on whether you need 3, 6 or 9 doctor’s visits per year, and also, the number of hospital days in each plan varies. The HSP 3 is $179 per month, the HSP 6 is $199 per month, and the HSP 9 is $229 per month.
- CAT50 – meant only as catastrophic health care, this covers up to $50,000 in hospital visits with a $5,000 deductible. For people over 34 years old, this costs $159 per month, and can be tacked onto another plan, like the WellMEC, or My Health Pass Plus.
This is just an example of some of the healthcare plans offered to van lifers and RVers who are members of the Escapees RV Club. For more information, I’d recommend joining the club and requesting materials from Theda.
One option for full-time travelers is to get a major medical plan through The Affordable Care Act, then tack on one of these more limited options for backup.
Where to go for health sharing ministries coverage
Health-sharing ministries work completely differently from any of the options we’ve described above. Your monthly payment goes into a pool, which is then distributed to members who need help with their medical care. Often, you’ll know who’s medical bills you’re helping to pay, and who’s paying yours.
The Christian health sharing ministries often don’t cover abortions, emergency contraception, or any other procedure that’s not within Christian values. For example, if a teenager became addicted to drugs, got pregnant, or got an STD, those costs would not be covered. If you do join a health sharing ministry, be aware that some services and care may not be shared. Ministries aren’t obligated to cover mental health, preventative care or birth control, for example
The cost of joining a health sharing option is often much cheaper than the Affordable Care Act, with some ministries estimating 30% savings.
Here are the main Christian Health Sharing Ministries out there:
Insurance options for world travelers
If you’re traveling outside the United States, you’ll probably want to consider Traveler’s Insurance to help you with unexpected bills while abroad. A lot of times, you can pay for smaller issues out-of-pocket when in foreign countries, as health care is cheaper than it is in the United States. But if you want some form of travel insurance for catastrophic illnesses and injuries, here are a few good choices.
You might want to get quote from each company and figure out which is best for your situation.
World Nomads – This program is a favorite for two of my friends who recently traveled the world. They were able to get fast, cheap service for a back problem in South America, and highly recommend World Nomads. World Nomads covers things like emergency overseas medical, medical repatriation, overseas dental, travel accidents, baggage, trip cancellation, and even tech you’re carrying around as a digital nomad. The cost of this insurance depends on a variety of factors like your age, where you’re going, and for how long.
Seven Corners – Seven Corners is a reputable travel insurance company that also covers medical emergencies, hospital visits, ambulance rides, emergency evacuation, trip delay and interruption, etc. Your quote will depend on how high your deductible is.
Allianz Travel Insurance – Like the other two mentioned above, Allianz offers coverage for emergency medical, baggage issues, trip interruption or cancellation, etc.
Even though sifting through all the health insurance options is exhausting, it’s important to have some form of coverage. You don’t want to go broke or bankrupt while on the road, living your dream life of travel, whether that’s by van, RV or sailboat. And with all the options out there, there’s no reason to go without.