Need medical assistance on-the-road? Read your insurance’s fine print


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Don’t let medical concerns needlessly ground you!

Ahh, the lure of the open road. The road less traveled. Forests and shorelines and deserts and not a care in the world. That’s what RVing is all about, right. 

Many RVers swear the lifestyle actually improves their health. And there is something to be said about less stress, a change of scenery, fresh air, and sunshine — all of which are associated with and part of RVing. Nevertheless, RVing is not a magic elixir of life and, face it, something is pretty likely to happen sometime that requires doctoring. 

Anymore, “going bare” or living without health insurance is risky business. We’ll assume that most of you have health insurance, or are contemplating getting into a plan. Here’s what you need to look for when you’re an RV traveler. 

If you’re Medicare eligible: There’s “straight” Medicare, which means you’ll usually pay around 20 percent of your health-care costs, and Medicare picks up the balance. Anywhere you travel, if the doctor or the hospital takes Medicare, you know what you’re in for. 

If you’re thinking about a Medicare advantage plan, wherein you have an intermediary health insurance company, things can get a bit trickier. If in your travels you need health care, you’ll need to make sure that your insurance company will let you see them, and that the provider will accept the insurance. But don’t drop it at that! We had an experience that illustrates the pitfalls of a Medicare Advantage plan. 

Last summer we were traveling in the Northwest when Russ got an “ugly” on his leg. He called the health insurance company’s consulting nurse line, and was advised he really should be seen. The company was kind enough to even suggest the name of an urgent care center near where we were traveling. We called in advance, gave the name of our insurance, and were told, yes, they accepted that insurance. We asked again on arrival for the appointment and, yes indeed, they accepted it. After the appointment, we paid a regular co-payment, and gave them a copy of the insurance card. 

That was two months ago. Earlier this week, along comes a bill from the urgent care center — asking for full payment. It seems that while they “took” the insurance, we were not in the “network” area for the insurance. We’re stuck with the bill. It never dawned on us to ensure that the center was “in the network.” Once our deductibles for “out of network” care are paid up, then we would have seen the insurance company step in and pay a good chunk of the bill, but we’d never been to an out-of-network provider before. Upshot: Read the fine print in your contract. 

For those who have a Medicare supplemental policy, wherein you pay a monthly premium for the policy, and once you’ve met your annual deductible,  the insurance company pays everything else — you’re good to go. All you need when traveling is to ensure the medical provider accepts Medicare, and you can go basically anywhere in the U.S. without fear. 

Many full-timing RVers will tell you there’s nothing better than a mail order pharmacy. Of course, if you’re traveling quite a bit, it will take a bit of finesse to coordinate the arrival of your medications with that of your RV. You can use the post office “General Delivery” service for companies that use the postal service for delivery, and from our experience, most do. An alternative is to have your prescriptions filled at a chain outfit like Walmart. We’ve sometimes had a prescription sent to a given Walmart on our planned route, only to have the plan blow up. Then it’s a simple matter to ask the Walmart pharmacy near where you find yourself to have the “script” sent on to that pharmacy instead.  

Part of looking after your health on the road means putting yourself in the driver’s seat — not only of your RV — but of your own care. For those who’ve been “spoiled” by having a health care system that looks after them, reminding them of checkups, keeping their medical records, etc., you may need a change of mind-set. Without a “regular” doctor or health system, you’ll need to make notes on the calendar as to when to have lab tests down, checkups accomplished, and prescription drugs refilled. 

Part of this self-care means keeping track of medical records. If you don’t already do so, be sure that when you have laboratory work done, get a copy of the results for yourself. Some “chain” labs will let you set up your own Internet-accessible system to look up and print those lab results. If not, insist you get copies and either carry them with you, or scan them and keep them on file with you on your computer. 

The same is true for radiology records. Have you had an MRI or CT scan? Ask the provider for a copy — they’ll deliver it to you on a CD or DVD. Keep these with you as you travel — you may find they’re needed in the future. The same is true for dental X-rays. If you need to see a “tooth doc” on the road, having these may save time and money.

And what about a complete list of the drugs you take, including the amount and “size” you take. And a list of any allergies you have. This information is best kept with you in your wallet. If you haven’t thought about it, now’s a good time to fill out an Advance Medical Directive and a Living Will. These legal forms direct doctors as to what kinds of care and treatment you’ll accept, and any that you won’t. A Living Will spells out just what your wishes are if you’re faced with being put on life support equipment. Do you want to have “everything possible” done to keep you alive (with the associated costs), or would you rather be taken off life support if your condition were “medically hopeless.” These are tough decisions to make, but taking the time to think them through with the counsel of loved ones can spare you and those same loved ones a lot of trouble down the road. 

How do you find health care on the road? If you’re looking at a minor but worrisome issue, urgent care centers are great. Usually the co-payment for a visit here is less than for an emergency room. They can handle all sorts of problems, and if they’re out of their element, they’ll know where to refer you. Your insurance company may have a consulting nurse advice line — a 24-hour hotline with a live RN who can tell you if you’re worrying too much, or too little. 

Even folks with chronic health conditions find the RVing lifestyle can be compatible. Liz writes of her experience as a kidney transplant patient. Regular medication and laboratory work is essential for her. “I did labs on the road, even in Canada and Mexico. The mail-order pharmacy sent my meds to our mail drop and they forwarded them to me. Never had a problem in five years of full timing.”

Yep, all of us have our share of ailments. With a little planning and effort, most of them can come along for the RV ride. No sense in staying home and stewing if you don’t need to.