Health Care Tips for Coronavirus Exiles

Caring for Mom

If you’re spending the coronavirus shut-down period away from where you normally live, you’re a “coronavirus exile.”

Coronavirus exiles include young adults forced to live with their parents again, families who fled congested urban environments for a vacation home, people who opted to quarantine with older relatives who might need help, and snowbird retirees who found themselves stuck in sunbelt states.

It’s one thing to take care of your bills and errands remotely but it can be especially challenging if you get sick and need medical care away from home. Many health insurance plans limit your benefits within geographically-focused networks of doctors and hospitals.

So what are your options if you’re living outside your health plan’s coverage area and need medical attention? Here are some quick tips.

  • Know how your coverage works before you need it. Since benefits can vary from one plan to another, call your health insurance company now. Ask if there are any network medical providers in your current area and whether you have coverage for out-of-network doctors. Understand what your out-of-pocket costs will be if you need medical care. The good news is that emergency medical care and care related to coronavirus itself will typically be covered.
  • Take advantage of telemedicine benefits, if you have them. Telemedicine allows you to consult with a doctor through an online video conference, even if you’re outside your coverage area. A recent eHealth survey found that 96% of insurers have seen increased utilization of telemedicine benefits. Many are actively encouraging members to take advantage of telemedicine by offering co-pay discounts and other incentives.
  • Be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for medical care. An out-of-network doctor’s office may not submit a medical claim to your insurance company on your behalf. Instead, you may need to pay at the time of service. If that’s not possible, pay what you can up front and ask about creating a payment plan. Save your paperwork and submit the claim to your insurer for reimbursement if your health plan provides any out-of-network coverage.
  • Ask for a discount when paying cash. When you see a non-network medical provider, chances are that you’re not going to benefit from the discounted rates that your insurance company negotiates with its own network of providers. Let the doctor or clinic you’re visiting know that you’re paying cash, and ask for a discount. Many will give people without insurance a discount of 10-20%, sometimes more.
  • Get your prescriptions forwarded to a local pharmacy. If you get a new prescription or refill from your old doctor, make sure that it is forwarded to a pharmacy near where you’re currently staying. Call your insurance company first to see if there are any network pharmacies in your new area.
  • If you were laid off and lost your health plan, check your options. By some estimates, nearly 27 million people have lost their employer-based health insurance due to the economic fallout from coronavirus. COBRA coverage may be an option for some, but it’s expensive. Under the Affordable Care Act, loss of employer coverage gives you a 60-day window to enroll in a health plan of your own and apply for government subsidies to make it more affordable. Medicaid may also be an option. Work with a licensed online health insurance agent or check with your state’s Department of Insurance to learn more.

A final thought: although coronavirus has slowed travel, more and more Americas are likely to be away from home in the coming months as we push past Memorial Day and into summer. Before you pack your suitcase, take a moment to understand your insurance benefits so you are not left scratching your head in the event you or a family member need medical attention while on the road. 

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