Trip Coverage for Mental Illness Explained
NPR ran a story entitled “Don’t Count on Travel Insurance to Cover Mental Health.” Questions about mental health travel insurance come up regularly among prospective travelers. The article tells the story of a couple whose travel plans needed to be changed based on recommendations by their adult son’s doctors. The doctors advised he not be left alone as he began a new treatment regimen for mental health problems. However when the would-be travelers submitted a claim for trip cancellation to their travel insurance company, it was denied. The claim was denied on the basis that their choice to remain at home with their son was done under speculation of possible health problems and not a concrete illness or injury.
It’s a heart-wrenching story, especially because most of us can identify with the parents who put their son’s well-being first. But does this family’s story really mean that travel insurance will never cover mental health issues? We reached out to our providers to get their take on the question. Here are the surprising answers about travel insurance and mental health we found:
Travel Insurance May Cover Mental Health in the Event of Hospitalization
According to our experts, some travel insurance providers treat hospitalization for mental illness reasons similarly to hospitalization for any other medical problem. If a traveler who’s insured by one of those companies has to cancel his plans because he, or a traveling companion, is hospitalized for mental health care, the same trip cancellation benefits would apply as if he had been in an accident or needed surgery.
More importantly for the context of the NPR story, these benefits do extend to anyone who’s not traveling, but meets the definition of “family member” on the insurance policy. In this case, the couple’s son would qualify as immediate family. Their travel insurance benefits would likely have covered them for canceling their trip had he been placed into in-patient care for the change in his treatment protocol. However, this type of mental health travel insurance is not provided by all insurers.
It’s vital that you ask questions and carefully read the terms of any policy you purchase. That way you can be sure you have what you need. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, and other mental illness sufferers should thoroughly research beforehand. In-depth research of benefits, policies, and plans will help ensure their travel is covered adequately.
Pre-Existing Conditions Waivers May Apply to Mental Health
If either of the parents in the NPR story had themselves been under treatment for mental health problems, they may have benefited from buying travel insurance with a Pre-Existing Conditions Waiver. With that type of coverage in place, if they had needed to cancel their plans based on medical recommendations, the travel insurance company would not be able to look into their prior medical records to determine whether or not the condition preventing them from traveling was related to any pre-existing condition. However, in the case of their son, our experts found that some companies would consider a pre-existing conditions waiver unnecessary; as long as he wasn’t planning to travel with his parents, his medical history may not be called into question.
The way each individual insurance company handles this scenario may differ. For example, if pre-existing conditions are a concern for you or an immediate family member, you should find out what the requirements are. Also, bear in mind that the waiver is a time-sensitive benefit, so it’s necessary to purchase your insurance within 10-30 days of making your initial trip payment if you want this type of coverage.
Cancel for Any Reason is a Smart Option for Those Concerned with Mental Health
The crux of the NPR story really comes down to one thing. The doctors in charge of the son’s care made a recommendation based on the possibility that his condition could deteriorate. Because it was a possibility, not an actual documented event, the travel insurance company denied the claim. Essentially their view was that insurance claims cover you for unforeseen problems that have happened. They did not cover possibly foreseen problems that haven’t materialized yet.
The company’s explanation probably doesn’t make things any better for the parents. Most readers still feel that something more could have been done for this family. Our experts recommend that in the future, a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy may be a better option for those who might find themselves in a similar situation.
CFAR allows you to cancel your plans for reasons that aren’t listed on your insurance documents. Truly, it’s cancel for “any” reason. This type of policy would have provided the flexibility for this particular family to cancel their plans. More importantly, they could still recover a large portion of their pre-paid, non-refundable expenses. When using CFAR, it’s important to remember that the cancellation must be made and all travel suppliers (including the insurance company) notified at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure. Also, as with the Pre-Existing Conditions Waiver, CFAR is a time-sensitive benefit. Be sure to purchase your insurance within 10-30 days of making the first trip payment. That way you’ll be eligible for the coverage you need.
Will Mental Health Travel Insurance Cover Your Condition?
Can you trust travel insurance to cover mental health issues? Yes, you can. As with all types of insurance coverage, the way benefits apply in individual situations may vary. But the options are out there. Travel insurance companies treat serious mental health problems the same way they treat serious problems of physical health. It’s just important to carefully research the options before purchasing, so you can be sure to get the right coverage. Keep in mind that CFAR is a great option for those interested in mental illness travel insurance coverage.