Buyer Beware: Travel Insurance Likely Won’t Cover Mental Health

Travel insurance can be a boon if you suddenly find yourself cradling the toilet and nesting on the floor of your bathroom like it’s the only place in the world you can possibly exist, to be sure. But if the reason you have to cancel your trip is a mental health issue, it’s not likely that travel insurance will cover you there.

NPR’s Health Shots blog brings up the example of a couple who had booked a tour to Sicily and Rome for her and her husband, and purchased health insurance. When the couple’s adult son was in the midst of a medication change for a diagnosed mental illness, they were told not to leave him alone.

“There’s no way we were going on this trip and leaving him,” she explained, so they put in a claim for $1,800 with the travel insurer. That claim was denied, even after the son’s psychiatrist wrote a letter in support.

He wrote “it is discriminatory and possibly illegal (regarding medical parity laws) to deny travel insurance reimbursement for such a medical situation, even if the underlying disorder is a psychiatric one.”

But the insurer replied that the police only offered coverage for “sickness, injury or death, it does not provide coverage for the risk of a sickness.”

Her money was gone, and she’s not alone — the National Alliance on Mental Illness got 10 complaints about travel insurance discrimination in the past year.

“If I fall down and break my leg I can get my money back, but if I have an anxiety attack and fall into depression, forget it,” the woman added. “That’s serious.”

So how is this allowed? The Mental Health Parity Act and Affordable Care Act only requires health insurance companies provide mental health coverage if they do so for physical illnesses — but travel insurance isn’t included in that law.

“If insurance companies take on added risk, it raises the cost of premium for consumers,” a spokeswoman for the United States Travel Insurance Association explained.

“Consider what you may end up encountering and what it could cost you,” she says. “Also, don’t forget to shop around.”

Because travel insurance is regulated at the state level, each state will have different requirements for licensed vendors. Before you purchase travel insurance, you’ll want to check the fine print closely and ask questions if you have doubts about what’s covered.

Don’t Count On Travel Insurance To Cover Mental Health [NPR]

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  1. CzarChasm says:

    Why would you think you could get coverage for cancelling for someone who is not going on the trip in the first place? If their son did break his leg I wouldn’t expect they would be covered either. This isn’t mental health discrimination, it’s common sense.

  2. Seli says:

    Most travel insurance companies sell policies that include “Cancel for any reason” coverage. Of course, you pay more for those. Many policies will cover cancellation due to the hospitalization or death of a non-traveling family member, but that wasn’t the case here. Basically, you should read the policy carefully to see exactly what they will cover. It’s probably a lot less than most people expect.