Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach
July 17, 2015 - 5 min read

Travel with Benefits – How to Navigate Your Health Insurance

I would say that one of the questions I get asked the most about travel nursing is, “how is health insurance handled?” There are a few options for insurance coverage as a traveling nurse which can be overwhelming so this is something you should discuss in detail with your recruiter.

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Personal Policy

When my husband and I first started traveling we tried using our travel nurse agency’s provided insurance, but that did not work well for us for several reasons:

  • The insurance was very basic coverage and it cost a lot to add me (the non-nurse spouse) and even more now that we have a child. Only the employee is covered and the rates for family members (in our experience) were very high.
  • We tend to change agencies from assignment to assignment which meant we were going to have to change insurance companies/policies each time. Each company has their own requirements for waiting periods and how long between assignments you can take off which was honestly just a big headache and too much paperwork to keep up with.
  • Not all companies provide insurance benefits and those that did were certainly not all created equal. This was not something we wanted to fuss with every few weeks.

I did some research early on and found that we could find better coverage for far less money on our own. The caveat to that was finding a company that would cover us as we moved all across the country.  After doing our research and making a few phone calls, we found that the best answer for us was a policy through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield because they are in all 50 states. They were able to write our policy out of our home state, but we were still covered when we traveled.

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Most travel nurse agencies also offer a reimbursement of some sort if you provide your own insurance, usually around $150 per month.  With that offsetting our cost it was a far better deal to provide our own insurance and not have the hassle of changing it with each assignment.

However, there is one catch to this.  Our situation is unique in the fact that we got our own insurance lined up five years ago, before Obamacare.  This means we are locked in at lower rates than most people who are currently trying to get their own coverage so I’m honestly not sure if this is still a feasible or affordable option anymore.  It is definitely still worth looking into if you feel like having your own policy is the best option for you and your family.

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Agency Insurance Benefits

I don’t want it to sound like I am knocking agency provided insurance benefits because for many people this is probably the best solution. For instance, if you only need to insure yourself this might be an excellent option, especially if you plan to be loyal to one agency.  However, the one thing you should be aware of is that not all agencies provide coverage. If agency provided insurance is important to you, make sure you seek out a company that offers this benefit and ask a lot of questions up front, such as:

  • How much is company paid?
  • How long is the wait period before coverage begins?  (Some wait periods can be a couple of months so on a three month assignment you wouldn’t be covered until you’re almost done.)
  • Does coverage continue without interruption if you stay with their agency?
  • How long are you allowed to take off between assignments while still being covered?
  • What is covered?
  • What is not covered?
  • Can you add a spouse and/or dependents? If so, how much does that cost?

Because of Obamacare, we have noticed that many companies have really re-vamped their insurance benefits and many recruiters are still confused by all of the changes. Make sure you speak with their benefits specialist and ask questions until you feel that you understand enough to make an educated decision on what is the best solution for your situation.

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Medical Cost Sharing Program

I know very little about this option other than the fact that I know that it is a possible option. I am a member of a few online travel communities and insurance questions are asked in these groups frequently. Many fellow travelers have found medical cost sharing programs to be a good solution for their family. From what I understand it can help to keep costs down but to still meet the requirements to be covered.  There are many medical cost sharing programs to choose from so be sure to do your due diligence if this is the route you choose to go with.

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Things to Know

Q: Do all staffing companies offer health insurance?

A: No.  While many do, every company is different when it comes to what they cover and even if they offer health insurance at all.

Q: What is typically covered?

A: Again, this varies greatly by company and you really need to ask each agency the specifics about their policy options. From what we have experienced, travel nurse coverage is nothing like the typically great coverage nurses are offered when working as a staff member for a hospital. Travel nurse benefits seem to be much more basic with higher fees and less coverage.

Q: Are family members covered?

A: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. From our experience you can cover your family members at your own expense, but not all companies even offer that.

Q: When does coverage start/end, i.e. does it start on the first day of assignment and end on last?

A: I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but again, it varies. From what we have noticed since Obamacare took effect, most policies do not start on day one anymore and some actually extend past the last day. Each company varies greatly so ask your agency how they handle this.

Q: Is extended coverage an option, i.e. if you commit to a particular staffing agency for multiple assignments.

A: Yes, this is probably the easiest way to use company provided health insurance. If you stay with one agency and follow their guidelines for remaining covered, it should be quite simple to avoid lapses in coverage.

Q: What do most travel nurses do for health insurance in between assignments?

A: It depends on the nurse. We have our own private policy so we are covered whether we are on an assignment or not. Some agencies will keep your insurance benefits active as long as you take another assignment with them within X amount of days. Some however, do not so be sure to ask!

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Key Takeaway’s

Are your health insurance coverage options as a travel nurse clear as mud now? It is honestly just one of those things each individual/family has to work out for themselves since everybody’s circumstances are so different. What works perfect for us might not work at all for the next family. While circumstances and options may vary greatly, here are a few tips that work in all situations:

  • Ask a lot of questions! Make sure you understand what each agency you are considering has to offer in terms of health insurance and/or reimbursement benefits.
  • Decide what is necessary for you and your situation.
    • Do you just need major medical or do you need extensive coverage?
    • Is it just you or do you have a spouse and or dependents?
    • Do you plan to work with one agency continuously or change agencies each assignment?
  • Research many different insurance providers and explain your circumstances to see what they have to offer.
  • Do your due diligence and research all of your options
  • Compare your options and make the decision that best fits your needs.

Good luck navigating the world of travel insurance! It can be a bit confusing at first but just be patient and diligent and you will figure out what works best for you.

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