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Long-term travelers’ health insurance question — New Zealand

My husband would like us to spend his sabbatical year in New Zealand (it would be from September 2021 to June 2022, so hopefully New Zealand will have opened their borders by then).

However, I am wondering about health insurance. I am mostly concerned because I was treated for stage 3 lung cancer last fall. I am currently in remission, but at relatively high risk of a recurrence until Nov. 2021 at least. If I have a recurrence, I will probably need to go on some kind of immunotherapy (one injection every two weeks for two years) which is incredibly expensive — about $10,000 every two weeks for the uninsured. In the US we have terrific health insurance which would completely cover the immunotherapy. However, this insurance only covers emergencies in foreign countries, not immunotherapy.

I did a brief look into traveler’s insurance, and from what I am seeing they probably wouldn’t cover immunotherapy either. I suppose I could try to get on insurance in New Zealand, but again would they agree to cover immunotherapy, particularly if I already know I have a cancer with a likelihood of recurrence (probably a 40% chance of recurrence between now and June 2022).

Unfortunately, my husband has to take sabbatical next year ... or lose it. He can’t wait until I get into the low risk of recurrence category. And he has dreamed of doing this sabbatical trip for years (and he has definitely earned it).

I am just trying to see how this could work out. I suppose I could always go, then if the cancer came back, I could move back to the US for the rest of the year to have it treated. However, that would completely suck for me. Not only to have the cancer recur, but to have to miss out on New Zealand and have to deal with the treatments alone while my husband is having the time of his life abroad.

Also, if we made all the plans only to have me have to come home for treatment in the middle, we still would have financial issues because I would not be able to stay in our own home or use our own cars since we are planning on renting out our home for the year and selling our cars before we leave.

My husband is the eternal optimist and thinks “everything will work out.” Yet, I am feeling incredibly stressed about this. What would you do?

Posted by
4934 posts

Janet,
Your question about health coverage for any future cancer treatment is beyond my previous research. I suspect that you probably cannot buy coverage for cancer treatment, should you need it in NZ.

We visited NZ in 2018 and loved the country, as well as our second visit to Australia. We learned that both those countries are more strict on immigrants that wish to move their permanently. We met some former British people that all had to pay quite a lot of money to the governments to immigrate. I realize this is not what you asked, but I do know that even visiting Canada, you must be prepared to pay, in advance for hospitalization and treatment even if you have US insurance that covers you. I suspect that would be the case in NZ.

Coming home would be hard if your husband could not come back to this position in the middle of his sabbatical.
Could you husband petition his employer to expend the sabbatical option for another year due to hardship?

Posted by
7599 posts

Also, if we made all the plans only to have me have to come home for treatment in the middle, we still would have financial issues because I would not be able to stay in our own home or use our own cars since we are planning on renting out our home for the year and selling our cars before we leave

Until I got to this, I thought the best option, even if not ideal, would be for you to return home to receive treatment.

Do you not have any family you could stay with?

Given the current circumstances, the optimistic "everything will work out" approach, is a hope , not a plan.

With your unique circumstance, I would contact an insurance agent who deals in international coverages. It definitely needs a solution long before the cars are sold and the house is rented out.

Good Luck!

Posted by
624 posts

I think it will be very difficult to get health care to cover a pre-existing condition. If cancer came back, then I think your only option would be to return to the US and live with a relative or rent an apartment while you have continuity of treatment. My husband was in the military, and it really sucked when I was pregnant and he was stationed in South Korea for one year. My co-worker's husband is currently in Japan for two years, she wants to visit and can't. I really wouldn't stress too much. It all might be a moot point if New Zealand does not open up borders and it is looking like they will be closed until the end of 2021 anyway.

Margaret

Posted by
2312 posts

What in New Zealand is more important to your husband than the health of his wife?

Sorry, but you did post to this forum and that is my first reaction to your post.

Posted by
1133 posts

She posted here for some potential information - not for less than helpful jabs at her husband, which is miles less than helpful. Just because you have a first thought doesn’t mean it needs to be expressed.

Janet, I am not sure you can ask any of us what we would do - you are in a less than ideal situation and you and your husband will have to weigh the options and all the considerations (along with your doctors I would think) - IF New Zealand is open. Life is very often not fair. I am sorry. Maybe you have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. And only you know which of your choices is the worst.

Posted by
3789 posts

Trsvelmom expresses it well. 'Hope for the best and plan for the worst.' In that case, possibly Plan A, B and C. Keep some of hubby's optimism, but a safety net that won't cost the earth should you need to return early for treatment. There are organizations like Sisters hosting Sisters where people open their home to solo women (usually travelers) for a while, or check with your cancer centre for less expensive housing under the circumstances.....icircumstances.....if family or friends are not an option. Alternatively, is there a way you can rent your place with a caveat that there be a room held for you in the slim chance you have to return?
For some time World Nomad was a strong long term travelminsurance, however their reputation has taken a beating in the past year or so. You may want to still check out what they will cover for pre existing conditions.
It is a difficult situation without covid adding further uncertainty. I hope it all works out for you.

Posted by
44 posts

Thanks for all the responses ... so quickly! Are people satisfying their foreign travel lust now by posting on travel forums?

To answer a couple of questions: No, there is no way that my husband could get his sabbatical year deferred. (Actually, now that I think of it, we are lucky it wasn’t this year!)

No, there is no family that live close to me in the US.

Also, I agree with what others have said about health insurance .... highly unlikely to cover long-term expensive treatments like immunotherapy. Apparently, it is possible to get traveller’s insurance with a pre-existing condition, but this kind of insurance doesn’t cover everything (notably, not what I need it to cover).

I was in kind of a dark place earlier this afternoon when I posted this. Now I am seeing a lot more options.

First, let me be clear, I really want to go to New Zealand. (It’s not like my husband would be dragging me along.) I think it would be beyond amazing to spend a year there. And I might indeed be fine. I currently have zero symptoms and no restrictions whatsoever on my activities. I could get lucky and just be fine.

If I do get a recurrence and need treatment, I could just go back to the US. It would suck, but it would suck less than never going to NZ at all. Also, my husband will actually be drawing his salary from his Unversity here in the US the whole time and we will still have our American-based health insurance. That means that we have a great deal of flexibility as to where we live throughout the year. So, if I had a recurrence, I could go back for treatment and have him come back and continue his sabbatical somewhere “exotic” in the US and I could get treatment wherever he chose to end the sabbatical in the US.. Or he could stay in NZ and I could make a few shorter trips back to visit during my immunotherapy. Also, there would be no reason for me to get the immunotherapy anywhere near our home ... it just needs to be somewhere in the US. So, if he stayed in NZ, I could stay with my sister in Boston or other relatives in New York.

Of course, if NZ doesn’t re-open its borders this whole exercise is moot. Come on vaccines!!!

Posted by
624 posts

I wanted to add to my earlier post, even if you can get to New Zealand for some of the time that would be a positive and better than never going at all. Good Luck with your decision making and come back and ask questions. Most of us have nowhere to go right now, so we are glad to help a fellow traveler with working out a plan A and B.
Margaret

Posted by
1133 posts

I am glad you are feeling a bit more hopeful. Sometimes just expressing our fears helps us see more clearly.

Kind of yes, we are all all using up some of our travel longing here - but on the other hand, most of us did this back when we were traveling anyway. :) :)

Posted by
2097 posts

Could your husband go to NZ as scheduled and you stay with your sister in Boston till your November follow up? When you get your results you could then plan on joining him without a sense of worry and dread hanging over your head. Once you have decided on a plan, your stress levels could go down, which only helps. Good luck with whatever you decide.

Posted by
44 posts

@Barbara,

Actually, staying here until November for the follow-up wouldn’t be so great. If it turns out that the cancer returned, I wouldn’t be able to live in NZ at all as I would have to start treatment right away. On the other hand, if there wasn’t a recurrence, I’d fell pissed that I missed two whole months of our year-long adventure for nothing.

I think the best bet is to do a lot of contingency planning before I leave, and leave fully knowing that I need to enjoy every day there ...

Posted by
2097 posts

Yes Janet, I get that. I would probably go and enjoy the two months.