A trip to the USA is high on the list for many a wandering Aussie. But thanks to the litigious nature of our American mates and the state of their public healthcare, dreams quickly turn into nightmares if a trip to the emergency room creeps onto your itinerary. Read on to see why Australian’s cannot afford to travel in America without travel insurance.
Medical expenses overseas can cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on the seriousness of your illness or injuries.
In countries like America, where the public healthcare system is not quite as supported by government funding as it is in Australia, medical bills can become astronomical. Add more expenses like missing flights, cancelling tours or losing hotel bookings, and the wheels come off the wagon pretty quickly.
Travel insurance is designed to cover medical expenses and expatriation, along with travel delays, return of rental vehicle and resumption of your overseas journey if something happens to you or your travel companion. Ditto personal liability claims which can form part of an accident or medical emergency scenario. With the odds very much not in a travellers favour, it makes pretty good sense to take cover, yet at least a quarter of Aussie tourists do not.
Still in doubt as to whether or not to pony up for that policy? Here’s the lay of the land:
HEALTH CARE IS NOT FREE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
Australia is not called the lucky country for nothing. Sometimes we forget how good we have it. Unlike our excellent public health system, U.S. healthcare is not ‘free healthcare’ – not for citizens of the U.S and certainly not for visitors.
Put simply, the U.S. medical system is vastly different from ours and relies heavily – if not completely, on private health insurance. To add insult to injury, there is no price regulation or limits to what U.S .medical providers can charge, unlike in Australia. You will even find major differences between what two hospitals will charge for the same treatment, in the same city.
Australian visitors without travel or accepted health insurance will have to pay out of pocket for their medical treatment. Payment is almost always required up front if you don’t have accepted health insurance. Smartraveller, the Australian Government’s travel advisory, cautions:
The standard of medical facilities and care throughout the United States is comparable to Australia. Medical costs in the United States are, however, extremely high. A visit to a doctor in the United States for even minor complaints can cost several hundred dollars, excluding laboratory tests or medication costs. In the absence of accepted health insurance (or proof of ability to pay), payment would generally be required up front.
STAGGERING US MEDICAL CARE COSTS
The good news? Medical care is excellent in most parts of the U.S. The terrifying part? A trip to even just the doctor can be stupidly expensive and astronomical for cases of critical illness. In fact, the U.S. has just about the highest costs for medical care in the world, over double what the average Aussie can expect to pay on health care back home.
A single trip to the emergency room for a few stitches and some antibiotics can cost hundreds of dollars. According to International Federation of Health Plans’ Comparative Price Report’ even the most routine of checkups can cost several hundred dollars, and a day in hospital can cost anywhere from US$1,500-$12,500, while a crook appendix can set you back US$13,910 on average – more than double the cost in Australia.
International Federation of Health Plans Comparative Price Report
WHAT IF YOU’RE NOT INSURED?
If you don’t have health insurance, you’re most likely up for a large deposit in order to be even admitted through the hospital doors. If you’re not able to pay this money, most hospitals will simply not let you in.
In case of critical emergencies, you will usually be taken to the nearest hospital (private or public), even if you have no health insurance and are unable to pay. However, ‘critical’ means life-threatening situations only. If you’ve broken your arm in a fall, this might not be considered critical.
If during your critical emergency you’ve been taken to a private hospital, you’ll probably be transferred to a public hospital once stable. Public hospitals do offer out-patient treatment to uninsured patients without advance payment. However unlike in Australia, American public hospital treatment is often basic at best, or even inferior, and you’ll be up for long waiting lists. Public hospitals are simply unable to cope with the millions of uninsured people, and the situation is only getting worse.
Even if you do receive treatment in a public hospital, you will get billed for it afterwards. If you can’t pay, the hospital is forced to sue you to get reimbursed by the U.S. government. If you still can’t cough up, a court will judge against you, and this judgement will remain in effect for years.
ON YOUR PAT MALONE
Furthermore, if you find yourself in ICU, or stuck on the side of a mountain, you’re very much on your own according to Canberra. The Australian Government will not pay for any medical expenses incurred in the USA. Nor will it cover medical evacuation costs, which regularly range from $75,000 to $95,000, according to the Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs (DFAT). Smartraveller warns:
The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller’s medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. The Australian Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.
Harsh, but now you know.
It’s no understatement that a trip to the emergency room could cost you an arm and leg. If you’re heading to the USA don’t leave ‘straya without proper travel insurance. To see how Travel with Kit has your back in the U.S., check out our cover options, or get a quote now to compare our budget-friendly cover.