What’s the Difference Between Primary & Secondary Travel Insurance Coverage?

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When you’re looking at different options for travel insurance, you’ll likely notice that there are two different types of emergency medical expense coverage—primary and secondary. It’s important to know the difference between these two terms before you purchase your insurance and head out on your trip, so you know what to do should you need to use it. To put it in the most basic terms:

  • Primary coverage simply means that you’ll submit claims to your travel insurance provider without involving your health insurance company.
  • Secondary coverage means that you’ll file with the travel insurance provider after you’ve already filed with any other existing health or travel insurance policies you may be covered by.

Primary Travel Insurance

Let’s start with primary insurance coverage. If you incur any emergency medical expenses during your trip, you’ll file a claim directly with the travel insurance company for reimbursement. Even if your primary health insurance in the United States would cover some of it if you were to submit a claim to them, you don’t have to worry about that with primary emergency medical coverage on your travel insurance policy. So primary coverage streamlines the process of submitting claims for reimbursement quite a bit, as you only have to go through it one time with one provider. 

Secondary Travel Insurance 

Secondary emergency medical expense coverage, on the other hand, can get a little more complicated. With secondary coverage, your travel insurance policy will provide reimbursement for your emergency medical expenses incurred during the trip after coverage from your other providers have reimbursed you as stipulated. If your domestic health insurance plan includes any international emergency medical coverage, you’ll first have to submit for reimbursement to them before submitting remaining costs to your travel insurance company. 

One important note is that if your primary health insurance plan doesn’t cover emergency medical expenses during travel at all, then you don’t have to worry about this because secondary coverage will act as primary coverage in this case. It can get confusing because it will still be called “secondary insurance” on the policy, but it will not apply to you.

PRO TIP: Medicare health insurance likely does not extend outside of the United States so travelers covered under medicare, the secondary coverage will automatically become primary.

Whether you opt for primary or secondary travel insurance, you’ll still be covered if you experience a medical emergency on your trip. The difference between primary travel insurance vs secondary isn’t about that—it’s just about the way you file a claim for reimbursement.