Moving overseas, living on a minister’s salary, and shopping for missionary health insurance is a brave new world.
There are policy limitations, exclusions, and benefits that are not typically part of Stateside insurance options. This post will focus on introducing you to the elements that are unique to purchasing and shopping for international missionary health insurance. While this post can apply to anyone living overseas, I’ve focused on addressing missionary specific issues.
Your missionary organization might already have a group benefit, or you might be forced to purchase your own missionary health insurance policy. If you must buy your own, make sure you understand the following key benefits of your insurance company.
Must-Know Facts About International Missionary Health Insurance
Be sure that you know and inquire about benefits by location. For example, it is typical that most plans will cover you 100% outside of the US and Canada. But, they will (typically) only cover 80% if you have services inside the USA or Canada.
At the time I purchased my policy, I found a company that offered 100% coverage outside of the US. That was perfect for us as I am a Canadian and have no problem using the medical facilities in Canada (with 100% coverage). That policy has now been grandfathered in, so it is getting harder and harder to find a policy that includes 100% coverage in Canada.
When shopping for missionary health insurance, ask – what are the eligible benefits incurred outside of the United States (Canada)? What are the eligible benefits incurred inside the United States?
Well-Child Care Benefits
If you have children, you will need to look closely at the child benefits. Items, procedures, and visits typically covered by American insurance plans may be excluded. Just be sure to look closely at this section and understand the benefits.
Ask – what are your well-child care benefits?
Emergency Medical Evacuation Benefits / Repatriation Benefit
When living in North America, this is not an issue. However, while living overseas, this is one of the most important ingredients of your missionary health insurance policy. This is how much they will pay to get you out of the country and to another country for medical services.
Ask – How is it determined if you should be evacuated (who makes the decision?)? Does this cover evacuation to my home country or just the nearest first world medical facility? Will the insurance company cover a dependent to travel with the injured person (typically called emergency medical reunion benefit)? What is the procedure for getting emergency evacuation approval?
Tip: It is important to know all of these procedural questions now, because when something serious happens and you need to be evacuated or quickly get to a first world hospital, you may not be able to think clearly – trust me, we’ve done it.
Return of Mortal Remains Benefit
Ask – how much you gonna’ give me to fly my body home if I die?
In order for you to be eligible for missionary health insurance, you must fit certain citizenship and residence requirements. You are typically required to live outside of the USA for a certain number of days per year. Not understanding your residency requirements could cause your plan to be terminated or benefits denied.
Important: If missionaries take long furloughs, (more than 6 months) they might violate the terms of their insurance. For long furloughs, you may need to switch to a US based health insurance plan. Check with your insurance company.
Ask – I’m a _____ citizen. Am I eligible? What is your policy regarding the time period one can be in the US?
Your policy may automatically include unborn children or they might need to be accepted. Obviously, the former is better, but either way, be sure to know what your policy is offering so you can make an informed decision.
Ask – will newborns be covered at birth? Are they automatically added to our plan, or do they need to be approved?
Clarify the pregnancy benefits. Many policies have a waiting period before you can be covered and the cost of having a baby is expensive. In addition, it is becoming more common to add a maternity rider, so the insurance can be purchased separately.
Ask – does this policy include maternity coverage? What is the waiting period?
Tip: If you are not going to be having any (more) children look for a policy that allows you to exclude maternity.
It is not uncommon for missionary health insurance plans to require pre-notification. This means you must contact them before having certain procedures. At times, they might even have a specific medical institution for you to visit. Often, if you do not pre-notify them, your benefits will be drastically reduced.
Ask – what is your pre-notification policy? How soon and for what procedures?
Suggestion: If they have a way to pre-notify via email, that is the preferred method, as you then have a written record. Just ask them to reply to your email confirming that it has been received.
Tip: Call when in doubt.
Unlike US based insurance, typically missionary health insurance plans require you will cover the expenses out of pocket. After you file a claim, the money will be paid back to you.
Ask – how are payments made? What is the timeframe/process for payment refunds?
Tip: You must have some type of an emergency fund in place to help cover emergency expenses. Otherwise, the time between payment and refund can be long, long, long.
Any other tips, suggestions, or considerations for buying missionary health insurance?