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Medical tourism insurance: Travel insurance that covers cosmetic surgery

Does travel insurance cover me for plastic surgery overseas?

Going overseas for cosmetic surgery (commonly known as medical tourism) is becoming increasingly popular for New Zealanders. With lower surgical costs and improving standards of health care beyond our shores, heading abroad for a nip and tuck may seem like the logical move.

However, if you’re going overseas to go under the knife, you’ll find it difficult to find travel insurance that will cover you. The basic tenet of travel insurance is to provide cover for the unforeseen and unexpected.

Any cosmetic or elective surgery you plan to receive overseas would be classed as a pre-existing condition and excluded from cover. Not only will your surgery not be covered, any complications or other expenses arising from the surgery will not be covered.

This guide looks at heading overseas for cosmetic surgery and how to get medical tourism insurance.

What is medical tourism?

The term medical tourism refers to the practice of combining elective surgery with a holiday abroad. It is now a multi-million dollar industry in New Zealand, with thousands travelling overseas every year for cut-price treatments including plastic surgery, breast implants and enhancements, weight loss procedures and dental treatment.

And while the cost of surgical treatment overseas is much lower than in New Zealand, the risks are also much higher. But despite this, the practice of medical tourism is on the increase, to the point where some health insurance companies are beginning to offer various forms of cover to medical tourism participants.

Tips for anyone considering getting surgery overseas

  • Don’t make the decision lightly. Cosmetic surgery can be risky, especially when performed overseas, so think very carefully about whether this is the right option for you before you go any further.
  • Don’t go too far from home. If complications develop after your surgery, the best person to deal with those complications is often the doctor who treated you initially. Unfortunately, that doctor could be thousands of kilometres away by the time any problems arise. Getting corrections done at a later date, either back in New Zealand or by returning overseas, will be expensive.
  • Know the risks. If you’re heading to a tropical environment to get your surgery done, keep in mind that there is an increased risk of infection in a tropical climate.
  • Be careful of dodgy implants. Depending on where you plan on getting your surgery done, be aware that cosmetic implants may not have had to go through the same strict approval process as that imposed by New Zealand’s Therapeutic Product Regulations.
  • Remember to factor in flight and accommodation costs. Even if a procedure is significantly cheaper overseas than in New Zealand, don’t forget that you will need to include flight and accommodation costs in your overall budget.
  • Do your research. It’s crucial that you investigate the quality of the medical facility you plan on visiting to make sure it is properly accredited. Does the facility have the same standards of care as a New Zealand hospital? Do the devices and items they use meet New Zealand standards?
  • Choosing a surgeon. You’ll also need to research the treating doctor and find out their level of experience, qualifications and accreditation. For example, are they a member of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery?
  • Worst-case scenario. Consider what will happen if something goes wrong with your procedure. Will the surgeon admit liability or will you be left facing expensive medical bills?
  • What happens afterwards? It’s also important that you find out about the post-operative care you will receive. What will the total cost of the procedure be and how long will recovery take?
  • Coming home. You may need to be a little flexible when it comes to choosing the date of your return to New Zealand in case you need to remain overseas to assist with your recovery. When you do fly home, choosing the most direct route possible is important to ensure a smoother recovery.
  • Seek out personal recommendations. Ask friends and family for information about their experiences with overseas cosmetic surgery. Do they have any advice or recommendations?

Why get travel insurance then?

Just because you’re planning to undergo elective surgery during your trip doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to take out a travel insurance policy. It just means you won’t be able to receive cover for any losses related to the surgery.

There are several insurers who are willing to offer you travel insurance cover for all the usual potential travel risks that do not relate to you going under the knife. This means that your hospital accommodation, medication and the cost of treatment will not be covered, nor will any other events that are a result of the surgery.

For example, if there are complications following your surgery that result in your hospitalisation and you have to cancel pre-booked flights to your next destination, your policy will not provide any cover.

But you will be able to receive cover for all other losses you incur on your holiday provided they are not related to the surgery. Travel insurance can provide cover for the following:

  • Overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses. If you suffer an unexpected illness or injury on your journey, you’ll be covered for the cost of ambulance transportation, medical treatment, hospital accommodation and repatriation if required.
  • Additional accommodation and travel expenses. If you can’t travel due to an injury or illness overseas, the extra accommodation and travel expenses you incur as a result will be covered.
  • Cancellation fees and lost deposits. If circumstances beyond your control force you to cancel or cut short your trip, for example if your travelling companion suffers a serious illness, the cancellation fees you are charged and any non-refundable deposits you have paid will be covered.
  • Luggage and personal belongings. The cost of repairing or replacing lost, stolen and damaged personal belongings will be included in cover.
  • Travel delay. When your trip is delayed by circumstances outside your control, you’ll receive funds to cover your additional meals and accommodation expenses.
  • Accidental death and permanent disability. Lump-sum benefits are payable if you become permanently disabled or die as a result of an injury suffered on your journey.
  • Cash and travel documents. Theft of cash and the loss, theft or damage of your important travel documents are all covered.
  • Rental vehicle excess. If your rental car is crashed, stolen or damaged, you’ll receive cover for the rental vehicle insurance excess you need to pay.
  • Personal liability. Travel insurance also offers protection if you cause bodily injury to someone else or damage their property during your journey.

Compare travel insurance policies

If you’re heading abroad to receive medical treatment, you won’t find a travel insurance policy that’ll cover you for loses related to your cosmetic procedure, but it’s a good idea to protect yourself from other common insurable events.

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