What is Primary vs. Secondary Medical Coverage?

1 June 2011
What is Primary vs. Secondary Medical Coverage?

Travel insurance plans offer primary travel medical coverage or secondary medical coverage, so what does that mean exactly?

  • Secondary medical coverage starts paying after any other insurance coverage has paid whatever it will pay. This means that secondary medical coverage will pay the deductibles, co-pays, and additional out-of-pocket expenses up to the policy limit.
  • Primary medical coverage pays first regardless of any other insurance coverage you may have.

Many consumers believe that primary plans are ‘better’ than secondary plans, but this isn’t exactly true.

Even if the travel insurance plan you have is secondary coverage, if you have no other coverage your secondary coverage becomes primary by default.

Travel insurance is not a ‘pay on the behalf of’ plan

What do we mean by this?

Travel insurance works differently than your common health insurance plan back home. In most cases, you can’t simply hand over a medical ID card at the door as you enter a medical facility and have the charges handled for you.

Instead, with most travel insurance plans, you’ll have to pay your medical bills yourself while on your trip (call your travel insurance provider as soon as possible), and then you’ll submit the receipts and documentation with your claim after.

Primary coverage can make payment easier

For example, with some plans, the company will arrange for advance payment if necessary for the insured to gain admission to a hospital.

These following are primary coverage plans that will arrange for advance payment:

  • The Allianz Deluxe plan
  • The following plans from Travel Guard:
    • Platinum (Cruise, Tour & Travel)
    • Gold
  • All of the plans from Travelex:
    • Basic
    • Travel Lite
    • Travel Max
    • Travel Plus
    • Travel Select
    • Travel Select Advantage

What if I’m on Medicare with a Medigap supplement?

A Medigap, also known as a Medicare supplement, plan may provide worldwide coverage benefits for health care needs, but under these plans Medigap typically pays for 80% (after a $250 deductible) of the cost of emergency care for the first 60 days of each trip. There is also a lifetime limit of $50,000 on these plans.

If you have previously made a claim on your Medigap plan, you’ll need to factor in that total claim to understand how much coverage you have left on your lifetime limit. Remember, a travel insurance plan with medical coverage will pay whatever is left over (also up to the policy limits).

Consider also that choosing a travel insurance plan with primary coverage might be the wisest choice. If you have a medical claim on your trip, you won’t be using up part of your lifetime limit which you may need back home. See our Seniors Beware page for additional information.

Primary vs. Secondary Price Comparison

To demonstrate a cost comparison of primary coverage vs. secondary, we loaded the following trip details into a comparison engine:

  • Traveler’s age: 38
  • Trip length: 5 days
  • Trip cost: $3,850

Then, we chose two plans with similar coverage limits:

  • Cancellation: $3,850
  • Interruption: $5,775
  • Evacuation: $500,000
  • Medical/dental: $50,000
Travel Insured International
Worldwide Trip Protector
Travel Select

This is just a quick comparison of travel insurance plan prices using common trip details – each of these plans has unique coverage and benefits that may make one more attractive than another depending on your travel plans.

The point here is that primary medical coverage doesn’t necessarily mean a big price difference.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.