Will Your New Gold, Silver, or Bronze Health Plan Cover Your Care if You Travel to Sochi for the Winter Olympic Games?

February 9, 2014 | By Lawrence J. Tabas

Snowboarders flying down halfpipes. Bobsledders careening down tracks. Goalies making glove saves. Those are just a few of the spectacles to be seen at the 22nd Winter Olympic Games. Despite all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Games, there have been numerous reports of shoddy living conditions for travelers in Sochi, Russia. Windows have fallen out of hotel rooms, exposing hotel guests to cold temperatures overnight. The water is a murky color, not suitable for human consumption. The situation raises the question—will your U.S. health insurance coverage provide for your care if you fall ill in Sochi, or anywhere abroad for that matter?

Leading up to the Games, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow encouraged Americans traveling to Sochi to confirm their overseas medical coverage, especially in light of Sochi’s untested medical infrastructure. This advice is equally applicable to Americans traveling to other foreign locales (sports enthusiasts will be traveling to Brazil for the World Cup later this year, for example). Though you may have just enrolled in a gold, silver, or bronze (or platinum) plan through the Affordable Care Act, you might not be covered when you leave the U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs (the “Bureau”) provides the following recommendations for Americans traveling abroad:

  • Talk to your insurance company—Before you leave the country, find out if your insurance covers your care abroad (Medicare, for example, does not cover overseas care). If you are not covered, the Bureau provides a list of travel medical insurance providers here.
  • Be prepared to ask your insurer questions like:
    • Does this insurance policy cover emergency expenses abroad such as returning me to the United States for treatment if I become seriously ill?
    • Does this insurance cover high-risk activities such as parasailing, mountain climbing, scuba diving and off-roading?
    • Does the insurance company guarantee medical payments abroad?
  • Carry proper documentation—If your insurer does provide coverage, be sure to carry your insurance card and a claim form.
  • Consider buying “medical evacuation insurance”—This insurance covers the costs of getting you back to the U.S., which can cost $10,000 or more.

The Games are an opportunity to showcase the best athletic talent in the world. For American spectators hoping to catch glimpses of these elite athletes in Sochi, a trip to Russia could turn into a headache if they have not considered their health care, and how that care will be paid for, should they need it while abroad.

To view the Bureau’s recommendations for U.S. travelers, click here.

The Health Law Gurus™ will continue to follow emerging issues in health care.



About the Authors

Lawrence J. Tabas


Lawrence is the Chair for Obermayer’s Health Care Law Department and Election Law Practice Group. Lawrence’s Health Care Law legal experience includes the representation of Pennsylvania County governments in Behavioral Health Managed...

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