Digital Nomad Life-Hacks: Global Health Insurance — By Jennifer Shipp
Mexico North America Tips

Digital Nomad Life-Hacks: Global Health Insurance — By Jennifer Shipp

About 24 hours after this photo was taken, John became really sick with a fever, vomiting, and diarrhea (I bought the CDC Yellow Book and diagnosed him as having cyclosporiasis about a month afterward when doctors couldn’t figure it out). We were in the middle of Fez, Morocco in the old city (the medina), which was only serviced by donkeys (no cars). That was the last time I ever left home without a med bag and a plan of action for disinfecting food before we ate it. Luckily, I’d purchased some Bactrim so after we got back to the states, I was able to easily treat John without having to wrestle with a doctor and our crappy healthcare system to get the right medications.

To date, I haven’t had a lot of interest in Global Health Insurance probably because I’m so sick of paying a super-high rate (in 2017 our monthly cost was $1400/month) for health insurance in the United States when I don’t intend to use the healthcare system there. I don’t like the U.S. healthcare system and I try not to use it EVER, even when we’re in the U.S. Over the course of a decade of travel, I went from a fear of being stricken with some health issue outside of the United States, to a fear of being stricken with a health issue when we were at “home”.

Let me explain:

There are hospitals like Bumrungrad in Bangkok, Thailand that offer all the medical technologies I could get in the United States, but at a cost that I can afford. And these technologies are provided in an environment similar to a 5-star hotel. When I leave the hospital, they ring up my bill and I can pay it right then and there. Because it’s affordable. If I were going to be struck with a serious illness or a major injury, I would want to be in Bangkok near Bumrungrad. If I were in the United States, I’d wish for a medical evacuation to Thailand, but I wouldn’t be able to afford one and one wouldn’t be offered to me.

The United States healthcare system is terrible in comparison with other developed countries. And on top of that, the pharmaceutical industry and the food industry collude to develop addictive products or pharmaceuticals that cause harm (for the purposes of profiting from the new ailments you’ll develop after eating the food or taking the drugs, of course). Because Americans rarely travel outside of their country, they don’t realize how poor the healthcare system in our country really is. They know it’s expensive. That’s obvious. But I’d rather go to the doctor in Kathmandu than in the U.S.

I’m totally serious about that.

The doctors we saw in Kathmandu educated us. They listened to us. And when I left the office, I could afford (out-of-pocket) the treatment offered to me.

And so I mostly dislike the idea of insurance. I think it’s hoax-y. And I think as Americans, we’ve been socialized to believe that we need it even though we maybe don’t. Note that I say “maybe” because, I’m American. I’ve grown up with stories of malpractice and lawsuits and disclaimers and mythologies about security mostly embodied through products like insurance all around me all the time. Right before we left the states permanently, I added up our bills and realized that one-third of our cost-of-living was food, one-third utilities, and one-third “insurance products”. My grandpa, a World War II veteran and an idealist was staunchly against “insurance” back in the day. My mom used to tell me about how he fought against insurance. That resonates with me. I think insurance is mostly bull-shit. It preys on our desire as humans to be “safe and secure” at all times.

There is a global health insurance product available for digital nomads through a company called Integra Global. Digital nomad healthcare insurance could come in useful if you fall into a coma and have to be on life-support for an extended period of time, it’s true. I’m considering it at about $150-$250/month for our family of three. I mean, it’s $250/month under one condition: that we don’t go to a United States healthcare facility. If we want to use the U.S. healthcare system, then the cost per month more than doubles. That’s how out-of-control the U.S. healthcare system is in terms of the rest of the world.

The thing is though, here in Mexico and in many other parts of the world, our monthly cost of living is only about $500-$1500/month (depending on a number of factors like how big of a house we want to live in). To pay $250/month is a lot proportionally, especially if I can save that amount rather than paying it into health insurance. If I’m generally healthy, then I can play the odds at my age. Depending on my lifestyle, how I eat, whether I exercise, if I engage in risky behaviors, I might be better off just pocketing the $250/month and investing it. Because in Mexico, I can afford medical treatment out-of-pocket 99% of the time.

On the other hand though, if we were living in India right now, I’d probably take out a world nomads insurance plan like Integra Global just because it’s so risky riding in a car or even walking down the street in India. But every digital nomad needs to decide for themselves about health insurance.

I’d advise all global nomads to learn a little bit about medical tourism because this is the wave of the future. People all over the world are traveling from developed to less developed countries abroad for medical treatments that they can’t afford or can’t access in their native countries. Right now, the only reason why patients travel to the U.S. for medical care is if they have long wait times in their native countries. In the U.S., if you have the funds, you can get the treatment. In some places, like Canada and Europe, it doesn’t matter how much money you have…you wait in line because they have socialized healthcare systems.

Bumrungrad in Bangkok is just one example of hospitals that offer affordable medical treatments catering to patients who are traveling specifically to do medical tourism. As a digital nomad, take some time to develop a healthcare strategy that will work for you. Don’t just hope to be lucky. A few simple strategies can make or break your experience traveling the world.

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