Emily Bryant MSN, RN
Emily Bryant MSN, RN
March 23, 2023 - 7 min read

Travel Nurse Insurance Guide

Health Insurance for Travel Nurses

Travel nursing gives nurses the opportunity to take advantage of a spontaneous life and lean into a life full of adventures. When making the decision to leave a staff position and become a traveler, one of the more common concerns from nurses involves how they will receive and manage their health insurance.

Since most hospitals offer relatively decent health benefits to their employees, it can be extremely daunting to leave such a secure job and feel unprotected. There are three main routes a travel nurse typically will take when choosing insurance:

  1. Agency provided insurance
  2. Individual insurance
  3. Short term insurance

Before we dive into some of the specifics about how each route differs, nurses need to consider a few factors that might be crucial deciding factors for their choice of insurance.

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What to consider when choosing a travel insurance plan:

What will you need health insurance for?

  • Do you have a pre-existing medical condition that will need frequent visits to the doctor?
  • Do you take prescription medications that you need covered?
  • Do you have a family or dependents that will also be on your plan?
  • Are you planning on having a child in the near future?
  • Are you looking for emergency treatment only?
  • Do you need day 1 coverage?
  • Do you need Vision/Dental included?
  • How long will you need coverage in between your contracts?

Agency Provided Insurance

Nearly all travel nurse companies offer some degree of health insurance as an option for taking a contract with them. However, not all companies are created equal, nor are their insurance options.

Travel recruiters should be able to provide you with their insurance provider as well as the specific benefits included prior to signing a contract with them. By carefully reviewing the specifics, nurses can make the decision of whether or not agency-provided insurance would be a good match for their current needs.

Pros of agency-provided insurance

One of the biggest benefits of choosing health insurance through your travel company is that it is relatively easy and does not require much additional work or thought process. Many times it just involves a quick DocuSign and basic enrollment, and you can have access to health insurance on the first day of your job. Most companies have transitioned to Day 1 health coverage, as well as a grace period of a few weeks in between contracts via COBRA, so seamless coverage can be possible if you plan on staying with the same company. Due to the simplicity and ease of access, this is also a great option for first-time travel nurses or nurses who don’t plan on traveling for an extended period of time.

Cons of agency-provided insurance

If you are a travel nurse who plans on chasing the money or switching agencies often while searching for your ideal job, company-provided insurance might not be the best option for you. Company-provided insurance, although a great option for obtaining quick and reliable insurance, may be more expensive and lacking coverage that a traveler might need. If you are switching between agencies, it might leave you with gaps of time when you have no coverage. Due to the limited coverage that some companies offer, if you have pre-existing health conditions that will need treatments or regular appointments, do additional research to make sure that you have adequate coverage for any potential visits you will need. There is nothing more frustrating than thinking you have medical coverage, and then receiving a large bill in the mail for the portion that insurance does not cover.

Individual Insurance

If you have pre-existing health conditions and know what kind of coverage you will be utilizing, or if you have dependents and plan on keeping the same insurance for a longer period of time, private or individual insurance might be the best option. Many people avoid travel nursing or even considering per diem jobs due to the lack of coverage or benefits, but enrolling in individual insurance can actually provide more coverage than a hospital or company’s choice. Cigna, United Healthcare, and the health insurance marketplace are great places to start looking for a plan that best suits your needs. Other individual options include health shares rather than insurance, which is a very personalized choice, and would be the best match for a traveler who doesn’t plan on needing much more than emergency coverage.

Pros of individual insurance

PPO plans offer the flexibility to choose your own provider and make the transition from state to state a bit easier. This takes so much stress away from traveling because setting up new doctors doesn’t require approval or dictation based on the insurance provider. Since private insurance does not rely on employment status, this is a wonderful option to give you peace of mind when taking time off in between contracts. Some travel companies will even give you a small stipend if you choose to carry your own insurance because they are not having to supplement you with insurance benefits. This is worth asking recruiters about when switching agencies.

Cons of individual insurance

One of the biggest challenges for private insurance is that you have to enroll at the end of the calendar year (or during their specific enrollment period) in order to have coverage for the following year. With the exception of a major life event, you cannot change your coverage outside of the enrollment period. Private insurance will also typically cost more than agency-provided insurance because an employer or agency is not supplementing the costs. However, when you consider the increase in base pay as a travel nurse, the difference in insurance costs can easily be offset by your weekly take-home pay.

Short-Term Insurance

Short-term insurance is exactly what it sounds like – insurance for a short, specified amount of time. Some nurses use this for the duration of their contracts, and others use it as a bridge between contracts. It provides a lot of flexibility for nurses willing to switch their insurance coverage more often.

Pros of short-term insurance

This can be a great option if you normally take company insurance but plan on taking a few months off and still want coverage. It is also one of the cheapest options out there, so if you are looking to have some amount of coverage during either shorter contracts or for some time off, short-term insurance can be a wonderful option.

Cons of short-term insurance

Even though this option is one of the cheapest ones, it also provides the least coverage. Short-term insurance companies might not honor coverage for pre-existing conditions, and they generally have much higher deductibles and co-pays. For the nurses who are generally healthy and willing to take the risk of remaining as healthy as possible, this is worth looking into for short amounts of time.

Additional Insurance worth Carrying

Personal Property/Renter’s Insurance

Since many travelers bring a large portion of their personal belongings with them, nurses should highly consider paying for personal property or renter’s insurance to cover their belongings. When renting, the landlord’s insurance covers the house, but it doesn’t cover your belongings. If anything should happen to the place where you are staying – if someone steals your belongings, or some unforeseen event causes damage to your property – renter’s insurance can provide funds to replace the damaged goods.

Dental/Vision Insurance

If you are expecting to have a significant amount of dental work done, or you know you will need glasses/contact reimbursement, investing in additional dental and vision insurance can pay off in the long run. If, however, you only need routine check-ups, it might be worth just paying the visit totals or asking the doctor’s office for a cash price rather than carrying insurance because of the additional costs. Some agencies provide dental and vision coverage, but you can also find options for independent insurance as well.

Speak with a recruiter today about available travel nursing assignments.

Pet Insurance

If you are traveling with a pet, it might be well worth your time to look into pet insurance. Not only that but talk to your recruiters to see if they have any animal benefits. A lot of the bigger agencies now provide insurance options for your animals. Some even provide discounts for veterinary visits and discounts on prescription medications.

Accident Insurance

Even though you will have a decent amount of coverage through health insurance in the case of an emergency, we as healthcare professionals are all too familiar with the insane costs of hospitalizations. Accident insurance, like Aflac’s accident insurance, or additional emergency insurance can cost as little as a few dollars each month and can have huge payouts in the case of an accident or emergency during your travels. If you want more peace of mind for minimal investment, consider purchasing additional insurance or asking your agency about options.

Mental Health Benefits

Although this isn’t exactly a specific type of insurance, if you are in need of counseling, therapy, or additional mental health resources, finding out the benefits different agencies provide might be a deciding factor for you. With the increasing discussions surrounding nurses’ mental health and burnout, more and more companies are starting to provide a given number of therapy sessions a year/contract to their staff.

Travel Nurse Insurance Summary

Choosing which health insurance option suits you best is an incredibly personal decision. There are many factors ranging from your current health status, expected needs, the amount of risk you are willing to take, and the presence of any dependents that might impact your decisions. Talk to your recruiters about what benefits they offer and engage other travel nurses about their experiences with the options they have used. There won’t be one right answer for everyone, but make sure you explore all of the options to find what seems to fit your needs best at the time of a new contract.

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