A relative of mine who periodically visits friends living in England had a recent premonition about a Christmas trip there.
For a reason that she is still unable to fully know, she bought an insurance plan in advance, protecting herself for up to $50,000 worth of medical treatment in England.
And would you believe? Within two days after arriving in London, she came down with a serious case of pneumonia, probably because the illness had been transmitted by poor ventilation within the overseas flight.
For the next month, she languished in a British hospital, whose costs were largely covered by that insurance policy.
Other Americans visiting England will undoubtedly be not so lucky (financially, that is).
Though British hospitals will not turn away an ill tourist for money reasons and are famous for their low fees, they will attempt to charge some money for their services.
And unless a condition is life threatening, they will not practice surgery or any other very serious treatments on a tourist unable to pay.
There is a broad misconception that foreign hospitals and physicians who provide free treatments for their own citizens will do the same for tourists.
With the possible exception of very minor medical treatment and advice, this just isn’t so.
The tourist must protect themselves with medical insurance if they fear bad luck in the course of their foreign adventure. (Here you'll find a Frommers.com feature about how to choose a policy.)
Nothing in this analysis has any application to the plans by a growing number of Americans who deliberately decide to receive medical or dental treatment overseas (for which they will pay).
An entire industry of medical journalists will claim that numerous overseas treatments are both effective and relatively cheap.
Tens of thousands of Americans travel each year to various countries for the purpose of purchasing medical or dental treatment. The cost of such treatments, it is claimed, is much lower than in the U.S. However, our discussion here deals with the casual tourist who suddenly discovers the need for medical treatment in the course of a short trip.
Finally, keep in mind that U.S. Medicare for American citizens over the age of 65 does not apply to medical treatment received overseas.
Nor, obviously, does Medicaid apply to treatment overseas.
It may be a disappointing discovery. But the American tourist who suddenly discovers the immediate need for medical treatment in the short course of a foreign trip must count on paying for all but the most casual use of a doctor.