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Health care in Europe

I’ve been traveling to Europe for over 20 years and never really thought much about whether I needed health care or not. I’m taking my girl friend for the first time and she thinks we need to buy a health care plan to cover us in case we get sick or injured. Does anyone have advice on this topic?

Posted by
6234 posts

Check with your medical carrier to determine what, if any, benefits/coverage they provide in Europe.

That will be important, to know what extent of coverage you may want to purchase to cover any injury/problems you might encounter in your travels.

Posted by
16843 posts

Even if you find you have adequate basic medical coverage in Europe, you probably don't have a policy that will cover the cost of being airlifted home in the event of something like a serious car accident. It has been reported that the cost of medical evacuation can exceed $100,000.

Posted by
6543 posts

If you really get down to it, very few medical situations require a special charter jet with intensive care quality treatment. Most of those with medical problems can be flown home on scheduled airlines.

Posted by
2387 posts

I guess I'm naive but I don't see much need for medical evacuation from Europe-I think of their health care as being as good as ours.

Posted by
11569 posts

But there are instances where an injured passenger needs more than a single seat on a commercial flight, and has to buy spur-of-the-moment tickets besides. That can get really expensive. Also covering $ in non-refundable hotel reservations, costs of a necessary longer stay and stuff like that.

I know someone who badly broke a leg in Italy and needed the space of multiple seats to accommodate the cast.

Posted by
2796 posts

My sister lives out of country and woke up one day not able to move her arms....something similar to Guillame Barr Syndrome. It is now 6 months and she can use one hand. She has had to have 24 hour care since coming home after a 4 week hospital stay and is still not eligible to travel without a medical companion to monitor her health and deal with the basic needs of seatbelt, toileting, getting onto the plane. This has happened to travelers our family knows. Sometimes it isn't a fall off a curb and a cast, it is the strokes, the GB Syndromes, the brain injuries - where they will not keep you in hospital, but you are incapacitated for long periods of time. Sure, these are pretty infrequent, but some people consider it peace of mind to take money from 2 fancy dinners and put it on ensuring they have coverage if things go wrong somewhere.

Posted by
10831 posts

I guess I'm naive but I don't see much need for medical evacuation
from Europe-I think of their health care as being as good as ours.

I'm not too sure about that. You really suspect that the care in Albania is at the same level as the US? Maybe so, but my gut tells me otherwise. I guess the point is that Europe isnt a place, it's a collection of places.

A few years back I started planning for a prolonged stay in Hungary. I found a number of policies that could be purchased by the month. The more inclusive policies ran about $300 a month. As for evacuation policies there are some trips I buy one for, others not. Depends on the country and length of stay. My insurance in the US, will in theory, reimburse me for health care expense in Europe, but in practice I haven't been successful. I've had out patient surgery in Hungary and the cost was less than my deductible on my US policy, the quality of care was outstanding. I've been to a clinic in Romania for strep throat and the facilities and availability of medicine was dismal. I get my dental work and have a cardiologist in Budapest and have had a minor ear infection treated all extremely well done and very affordable.

Posted by
5026 posts

I dont think they will provide you with indefinite long-term care at low prices. A heart attack, stroke, spinal injury, car accident, head trauma, etc., may all need you to be sent home for long term care, maybe with a nurse monitoring your care and meds. I know its hard for young folks to think about stuff like that, but it happens.

Posted by
15578 posts

It is not the likelyhood of a bad event happening, it is the financial consequences of a bad event. That is what insurance is for. Since seriously bad events are unlikely, the cost of insurance is low.

Posted by
1021 posts

I guess I'm naive but I don't see much need for medical evacuation
from Europe-I think of their health care as being as good as ours.

I agree with you. But even though I am European myself (Danish) I will take out an insurance when I travel in Europe.

I am sure that I can get professional care in Italy or Greece, but I speak very little Italian and no Greek, so I would prefer to be relocated to a Danish hospital as soon as possible - not due to quality of care, but rather due to quality of communication. And I don't want to force my family to go to Italy to visit me in hospital.

Posted by
3263 posts

For the past several trips I've gotten travel medical insurance that includes all that's being talked about here. I get it as soon as I put down the first money for the trip, so I get covered for my serious pre-existing conditions.

I make sure to be well-covered for the return home, alive or in a box. I'm 73, take 4+ week trips and the cost of the insurance is insignificant compared to the total trip cost. Having been medevacked from Ellensburg to Seattle WA in 2006 at a cost of almost $10,000 (fortunately covered by my health insurance at the time) I'm disinclined toward thinking nothing will happen to me. I hope to never have to use it, but I see the insurance as a form of asset protection as well medical coverage.

There's a pretty good discussion here about this topic. In spite of the title, it's not just about Medicare.

Posted by
5727 posts

An uninsured friend was medivaced to US from Europe and paid out of pocket,$60,000+. He had been hospitalized there for a week or more.

Posted by
337 posts

My father had a major stroke on a business trip. Had he waited to recover enough to fly home commercially, he never would have come home. Evacuation insurance is a consideration.

Posted by
2387 posts

@James Thanks for the point about Albania. I was thinking of what used to be referred to as "Western Europe".

Posted by
3951 posts

I take out travel insurance wherever I travel, including Europe. It costs £130 for an annual multi trip that covers the whole family and it's worth it for the peace of mind.

I'm certainly glad I had it when I underwent an emergency apendoctomy whilst in California!

Posted by
398 posts

My brother is a phone counselor for a major health insurance company. Every so often he gets a call from someone who has has an accident while on vacation in a foreign country. Sadly, the callers don’t realize that their insurance doesn’t cover anything outside the US.

I NEVER got insurance when I was young and single and traveled all over the place. But now with kids and older parents I just consider it a part of my travel expenses.

Posted by
1163 posts

Medical treatment in Western Europe will be as good as you get in the USA. And the health care systems if you are a resident (or EU resident) are much better & fairer than the USA since all these European countries have a universal health system in one form or another.

However, this isn't entirely relevant to you as a non-resident visitor, where what matters is travel insurance, not a health care plan. You will get treated irrespective of cash on hand, and emergency care is often free. But you should consider insuring yourself for out of pocket treatment and recovery costs (which may not be large compared to USA amounts), lost money (e.g. cancelling paid for hotel reservations you no longer need), new expenses (e.g. buying an airline ticket to get home on a different day), or, in extreme cases, medical supported transport home.

Posted by
5817 posts

I know everyone has different priorities but I wouldn't dream of going on holiday without insurance.
Two members of my family have been very grateful to have it. My uncle nearly died whilst on holiday in Madeira when a fish bone decided to rip through his digestive system. My brother's mother in law was run over and seriously injured in Greece. In both cases the medical care was covered because of the EU reciprocal health care agreement ( how we will dream of those days post-Brexit! )
My uncle was flown home in a private plane as soon as he was deemed safe to fly. My bro's M-in-L came home on a normal flight in an area where a couple of rows of seats were removed.
Where insurance came into its own was for the other stuff you might not think of. It covered the cost of accomodation for the additional time their family members needed to be with them. My aunt was provided with a self catering flat, which was a god send. There was a daily allowance provided for food and other incidental expenses. The cost of taxis to and from the hospital and phone calls were covered. No one was going to get rich on it but it certainly helped. Most important there was someone on the other end of the phone to offer advice and help make arrangements. I can't imagine trying to deal with that situation without insurance.

Posted by
11569 posts

Most important there was someone on the other end of the phone to
offer advice and help make arrangements.

Emma, that's another very good point.
Yikes, being an American, how Brexit might affect your reciprocal health care hadn't occurred to me. Just one more strand in the hairball, eh?

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks everyone for all the great ideas and stories. I live in California and will be in Italy, Prague and Edinburgh for a month. Does anyone in the states have a link or company name to an insurance company they use for travel insurance?

Thanks for everyone for the time.

Posted by
16843 posts

People will be able to report on their impressions, but not too many have actually had to file a claim, which is more or less where the rubber meets the road.

Two often-recommended websites for investigating options are insuremytrip.com and squaremouth.com . Neither is an insurance company.

Posted by
1353 posts

I'm not too sure about that. You really suspect that the care in
Albania is at the same level as the US?

While there is some truth to this, the problem with this is that often evacuation is to the nearest adequate facility, not to the US. Also, the treatment outside major cities in the US is not particularly good. Here on Maui I routinely fly to Oahu or the mainland for medical treatment, I'm sure many rural Americans - if they can afford it - do the same. My two experiences with semi-serious health care abroad were when I was attacked by a dog in Bosnia and ended up in the emergency room. Where I stayed for less than half an hour, was charged like $25 or something, and they patched me up, gave me a tetanus shot, and told me don't worry about rabies. My second was in my wife's town in Bulgaria on a busy Friday night, when my SIL seriously sliced her hand on a broken glass and required stitches. Which were administered with no anesthetic (they ran out) and also one of the stitches was an abdominal stitch as they ran out of the regular ones while doing her hand.

But on the overall topic, these numbers supplied say it all. If I told you I think you should walk around with a lightning rod strapped to your head, and argue that even though the chance is infinitesimal, you would really thank me if you did get struck by lightning, you would likely laugh at me and possibly think me mentally ill. But lightning hits 1:960,000 people in America. Whereas only 1:1,550,000 Americans in France needed an air ambulance. So I guess draw your own conclusions about the need for that type of insurance.

Posted by
15578 posts

I've used Travel Guard's Medevac policy in the past, but it is now very hard to find on their website. They want to sell more expensive, and more profitable, comprehensive plans.

Posted by
10831 posts

Kaeleku

You should know me by now, I just push back on mindless generalizations. You would think that all these experienced travelers would know that Europe isnt some sort of homogenized cheese. I have a good friend in Budapest (Eastern Europe) who left the UK (Western Europe) in part because the medical system was better in Budapest. And let's not even start the East, West, Central debate.

Posted by
4637 posts

Who does not take insurance (health and evacuation) while traveling is playing Russian roulette. Generally we can say that healthcare in Europe (especially in big cities) is on very similar level as here, sometimes better if we consider the price and waiting time. Several years ago I had a head injury and needed stitches. Few seconds I was unconscious. Ambulance was called and I was taken to a clinic. Because I was bleeding they took me in, no waiting. Nurses were very attentive, doctor was great. Ambulance (11 kilometers) cost $8 (in local currency). Doctors and nurses care cost little over $20. I did not bother with submitting a claim. Deductible would have cost me more here and in my local hospital ER I would have to wait. That happened in small town in Czech Republic.

Posted by
3951 posts

Is the UK in Western Europe?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/world/europe/uk-national-health-service.html

Much of the problem lies with the fact that the NHS, most notably hospital A&E, is frequently abused. So many people attend A&E when they don't need to instead of seeking alternative treatment or diagnosis. This causes huge problems in the management of cases and is a primary reason for the complaints of long waiting times as described in the article. Because most healthcare is free at the point of access it often gets abused for cases where alternatives are more appropriate. I'm sure that if many of these cases required a fee upfront then we'd see a big decline in the frivololus use of the NHS.

The treatments received are no better or worse than the US. The treatment I received when I underwent the apendectomy in California was no different than what I would have received back home, the only difference was the food was better in California.

Posted by
1513 posts

I’ve used Squaremouth to find various policies and can compare 5 policies at once, cost, coverage, maximums, evacuation coverage etc. great site to get the most for the least amount if money.

For longer term travel, IMG has extended policies. (We paid $2200 for 1 year excluding US and Canada)
But monthly policies are available also

Years ago my Aunt fell and needed to fly home laying on a bed that took up the room of multiple business class seats, they had insurance.

Posted by
5817 posts

As you are so against "mindless generalisations" James perhaps you would be interested in another side to the NHS. Isn't it nice to look to the positive side once in a while.
https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/medical-information/real-stories

No one says the NHS is perfect. It has huge problems. Aging baby boomers who have been kept alive by it all their lives don't help.:-) New, exciting but expensive treatments cost more than telling someone there is nothing we can do for you.

The one big advantage of the NHS and most other European health care systems, both eastern and western european, is that when you fall ill or have an accident you don't have to worry about being bankrupted by the cost of the treatment or whether a pre existing condition will mean you aren't covered.

Decent travel insurance provides a similar type of piece of mind when you travel

Posted by
3141 posts

"The one big advantage of the NHS and most other European health care
systems, both eastern and western european, is that when you fall ill
or have an accident you don't have to worry about being bankrupted by
the cost of the treatment or whether a pre existing condition will
mean you aren't covered."

Thank God for our health insurance in US & not the NHS! Last year, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer from a routine annual checkup with my ob/gyn and within 9 days of being told I had cancer, I went for a CT scan to see how far it spread and then was scheduled for a total hysterectomy. 9 days, that's it. I would have had to have waited months for the CT scan under the NHS (found that out from my OB/GYN) and then months after that for a hysterectomy because "womb cancer" as the NHS calls it is considered not an emergency and one has to wait and wait and wait for the NHS to approve & schedule. While waiting like that, the cancer would metastasize.

Not with me. I had a laparoscopic total hysterectomy 9 days after the fact, stayed overnight at the hospital, and only paid a total of $300 that included surgery, anesthesia/anesthesiologists, surgery recovery, nurses, semi private room, IV meds, pills, meals, doctors, CT scans. No coinsurance, no deductibles. Just $300. We have an EPO plan that includes out-of-network benefits when we travel and God bless it. I found out 7 days after surgery that they got all of the cancer as it had not even reached Stage 1 because the oncological surgeon acted quickly and wasn't subject to a government bureaucracy. Delays could have meant chemo and radiation treatments after the fact. There was no delay & I don't need chemo or radiation at all & I'm so grateful. Also, my EPO plan approved the surgery within HOURS so I could then schedule the surgery for the following week.

Didn't mean to go into such personal info but I had to respond given what was said above. Now to the OP's question:

I’ve been traveling to Europe for over 20 years and never really
thought much about whether I needed health care or not. I’m taking my
girl friend for the first time and she thinks we need to buy a health
care plan to cover us in case we get sick or injured. Does anyone have
advice on this topic?

You each should contact your health insurance providers respectively first. You may already have coverage. As was mentioned by others, ask about coverage for worst-case scenarios like being airlifted to a city hospital or even transported back to the US for hospital care. I asked this question with our EPO and they cover these at 100%.

Posted by
5817 posts

I’m sorry Continental but your OpGyn is seriously misinformed about the NHS. I would be interested to know where they were getting their information.
A close relative found themselves in a similar situation and they experienced nothing like you described with the NHS. Was it all perfect, no it wasn’t but the actual treatment and care they received was excellent. Thankfully they are now back in the road to good health.

Posted by
3141 posts

I’m sorry Continental but your OpGyn is seriously misinformed about
the NHS. I would be interested to know where they were getting their
information.

Her colleagues in the practice who moved to New York from the UK. I had never heard of the term "womb cancer". One of them actually came in to talk to me too as I was very curious about that; I was curious about lot of things after the fact! She told me that the NHS keeps women from getting annual access to Pap Smears from their OB/GYN (at best every 3 years starting at age 25). The NHS she said also won't permit women to have annual mammograms. My first was at age 40 and includes a breast sonogram with it annually because of the density of the tissue. All paid by insurance at 100%.

As an aside, she told me they moved to be able to practice medicine without "NHS government rationing" (not my words). She talked about some of her younger colleagues in her office having to go on strike against the NHS. Wow.

A close relative found themselves in a similar situation and they
experienced nothing like you described with the NHS. Was it all
perfect, no it wasn’t but the actual treatment and care they received
was excellent. Thankfully they are now back in the road to good
health.

That's wonderful news!

Posted by
5817 posts

Aren’t you lucky that you have insurance? Unfortunately I am sure people who aren’t in as lucky a position as you might have a different story to tell?
A British person able to afford a comprehensive medical insurance policy would also receive similar treatment and checks. The difference is that if you can’t afford private health cover in the UK you still get treated.

“Won’t permit annual mammograms” is a bit of an exaggeration. A close friend of mine certainly has one every year and has done since her early 30s because of her family history.

Let’s face it there are positives and negatives on both sides but to a lot of British people the ideal set up by Nye Bevan still means something
“No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”

Posted by
10831 posts

Okay, so how do we tie this back to tourism. I think RS would agree that part of the benefit of traveling is to get a first hand impression of how other parts of the world live, the good stuff, the bad stuff and the tradeoffs involved in making the decisions that create that environment. Even the differences in those decisions from place to place and the results of those differences become obvious if you take the time to look. Some things not so obvious. So what is this all good for? I think it makes you a better informed decision and in a democracy, an informed public is essential.

Since we are talking about health care, what does insurance for a couple cost in the US? Lets say $12,000 a year. In my home town the average size new home is 2,100 sf. and the current mortgage would be $1,500.00 (excluding property tax and insurance). The average size new home in the UK is about 700 sf. The mortgage on that would be about $500.00. Live as they live in the UK and you could afford insurance or pay enough in taxes so the government could provide it for you. The main difference between socialized health care and free market health care is in one system the government "normalizes" priorities for you, and in the other system you are free to make mistakes. And yes, this was simplistic. But the socialized system has this, but the capitalistic system has that, but this and but that ... It isnt a straight line solution. It is complex and woven into cultures and their histories.

I am not saying this to take a political position. Neither system is right or wrong. I say it in hopes that when people travel they will not just see the good or the bad, but ask themselves why? how? and then consider it when making decisions at our own polls.

Posted by
10831 posts

Oh, and also in the vein of informed travel. For those Europeans thinking of visting the US, I suggest you buy a short term policy. But, while I am not encouraging someone to show up without preparation; do know that NO ONE in the US is ever denied life saving medical care at any licensed hospital in the US. Insurance or no insurance. Your broken are will be x-rayed an the bone will be set. That strep throat will be treated with antibiotics and that stroke will get you in the emergency room door first. Again, insurance or no insurance.

Posted by
5817 posts

Without travel insurance they won't leave you for dead in the ER but you will be dead financially when you get home.......

Bringing it back to travel I did read something interesting yesterday. A woman in the US, I presume without health insurance, was being charged $750+ a month for insulin. A situation that is literally evil but anyway...... She was advised that it would save her money to book a trip to the UK to visit one of our private doctors who would be able to issue a prescription for a bulk amount of insulin at a significantly lower price. She saves money and gets a nice holiday into the bargain.
Sounds like a gap in the travel market to me!

Posted by
10831 posts

And I go to Hungary for dental work, cardiologist, audiologist. Great quality great prices. Subsidizes the travel cost.

Posted by
3141 posts

I’ve been traveling to Europe for over 20 years and never really
thought much about whether I needed health care or not. I’m taking my
girl friend for the first time and she thinks we need to buy a health
care plan to cover us in case we get sick or injured. Does anyone have
advice on this topic?

Yup. You each should contact the cust svc # on the back of your respective health insurance cards and ask. i no longer need to buy temporary travel health insurance because I am now covered while abroad. You both may be too.

Posted by
57 posts

I'm leaving in 2 weeks and I contacted my health insurance provider to check on coverage while I'm abroad. As the conversation was via email, I printed out the info they sent me about coverage and will take it with me, along with my insurance card, so just in case medical care is needed, I have the info.

So I guess it depends on your insurance and what's covered.

Safe travels!

Posted by
3141 posts

So I guess it depends on your insurance and what's covered.

Exactly. Have a great trip.

Posted by
10831 posts

Remember, just because your company will cover it, doesnt mean the health care provider will accept your insurance (they probalby wont). Make sure you have the cash.....

Posted by
5026 posts

What James said. They dont normally deal with insurance especially foreign insurance as a matter of daily business. That's an American thing. Foreign providers dont care what your insurance is, and wont check whats covered. They hand you a bill and its up to you to get reimbursed by your insurance. Make sure you get a complete and accurate description, as American insurers are always looking for specific language and codewords to identify services.