Q. We live in China right now but we don’t have health insurance for the times we come back to the states. What kind of insurance can we get?
A. Travel insurance is offered by a wide range of insurance carriers, and plans are available for coverage in the country where you’re currently residing, or for when you travel abroad – including to the United States. Most health insurance brokers can assist you in finding a policy that will meet your needs.
Travel insurance is not regulated by the ACA. That means that the policies still use medical underwriting, do not have to cover pre-existing conditions (or can impose a waiting period for them), do not have to cover the 10 essential health benefits, and can impose benefit maximums.
But they are generally the best option available to people who are traveling outside their country of residence, since most health insurance policies (both U.S. and foreign) do not cover care received abroad. And because the policies are still underwritten, they are available year-round and the application process is generally quick and simple.
Americans living abroad are exempt from the ACA’s shared responsibility provision (individual mandate) as long as they are outside the United States for at least 330 days of the year. So although a travel insurance policy does not meet the ACA’s minimum essential coverage requirement, Americans living abroad long-term will not be penalized for having coverage under a travel insurance policy.
Although the GOP tax bill that was enacted in December 2017 will eventually repeal the individual mandate penalty, that won’t take effect until 2019. People who were uninsured in 2017, and those who are uninsured in 2018, will still face penalties for being uninsured, unless they’re eligible for an exemption.
If you return permanently to the US, you’ll have access to a special enrollment period triggered by your move, which means you’ll be able to enroll in any plan available in your new area, on or off-exchange. The special enrollment period triggered by a permanent move generally only applies to people who had minimum essential coverage for at least one of the 60 days prior to the move. But people who are moving back to the US from abroad are specifically exempt from that requirement.