Featured in Employee Benefit News – By Emily Chardac
Contributing Editor to Employee Benefit News, Emily is an HR professional with degrees in human resources and international business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m probably not the only one who gets chills when I enter an airport. There is something unnerving about the bustling people, smell of burnt coffee and the disgruntled airport employee looking for Charlie Jones because he’s about to miss his flight.
For employees traveling abroad, there’s the added anxiety of leaving the country. However, you can help ease some of that anxiety by providing comprehensive information so that employees traveling overseas are equipped to make informed decisions.
Let’s start with vaccinations. Refer overseas travelers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov) or the State Department website (www.travel.state.gov) to learn the vaccinations that are recommended for particular geographic locations. Once employees know which vaccinations might be needed, it’s important to help them find out if your company’s health insurance covers those particular vaccinations.
While I can’t speak to every insurance plan, I would assume that most insurance plans would have restrictions on hepatitis A for adults, malaria, and possibly cholera or yellow fever.
Some insurance plans view particular vaccinations as nonroutine or not medically necessary when the subscriber does not need the vaccination within the country they reside in.
These particular vaccinations could range from $100 to $500 each, depending on the dosage; therefore, it’s imperative to know what your plan covers when it comes to vaccinations. One alternative would be to verify eligibility for reimbursement through a flexible spending account or health savings account.
I often have to discuss “what if?” scenarios with employees traveling abroad. Specifically, what if they get injured or ill while abroad? As a benefits administrator, I prefer having these conversations in person. It gives me an opportunity to help the person become familiar with my organization’s website to be self-sufficient throughout the process. A few main talking points:
1. Inform employees whether or not your health plan reimburses for out-of-network services for routine, nonemergency and emergency services. In the United States, some health plans make these distinctions.
If your health plan does reimburse in one or more of these scenarios, give employees the paperwork and procedures they’ll need to file an out-of-network claim – including the claim form, who to fax or mail the document to and a person to contact with any questions.
Note: Toll-free numbers often don’t work properly when dialing outside of the United States, so make sure you find an international-friendly number to give employees.Include how the employee should document transactions, such as providing receipts, English translation and currency converter.
2. Explain that a U.S. insurance card will have no value in other countries. Therefore, travelers will need to pay for their expenses out of pocket. Assure them of the out-of-network reimbursement procedures, if applicable.
3. Remind employees to know the address and phone number of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country they are visiting.
The next conversation I have with employees usually is the most uncomfortable for me. It’s necessary to discuss what would happen if an employee suddenly became ill or were in a life-threatening situation. Try to touch on a situation where the employee might need an air ambulance or large reservation of seats on a commercial flight with room enough for medical equipment.
Medical evacuation insurance can provide coverage that allows someone to have the comfort of being transported to their home country. Most employer health insurance plans wouldn’t include this provision, so the employee will need to shop around.
Repatriation of remains is another difficult conversation. What if an employee or dependent passes away while traveling abroad? This insurance provides coverage for the transport of one’s body or remains in the event the covered member dies.
Sometimes subscribers can purchase both the medical evacuation and repatriation of remains insurance together for a very nominal cost.
Some of these topics are quite difficult to talk about as a benefits administrator. However, you’ll find that most employees will appreciate your guidance and find it incredibly helpful as they reach an informed decision.
I always remind employees of the best piece of advice I received from a former supervisor: “Buy insurance for when you need it, not when you guess how you will need it.” That tip has always been helpful for me, and I hope it’s helpful for your employees as well. Happy traveling!