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Short Term vs Long Term Health Insurance

To help you evaluate both ends of the spectrum, this article describes the benefits, length of coverage and purpose of both long term and short term insurance options.

short term vs long term

When choosing between a long term and short term health insurance plan, it's important to ask yourself two general questions:

How long will you need your insurance?

For periods of less than one year, a short term plan may be ideal. Long term plans offer annually renewable coverage, so you can keep the same plan for an extended period of time, but tend to cost a bit more.

What would you like your insurance to cover?

If you have pre-existing conditions, plan on becoming pregnant, or would like a more comprehensive plan, a long term plan may be your best option. If you just need doctor visits and general coverage, the short term insurance section below will be of most interest to you.

Short Term Insurance

Tip: Unlike major medical or long term plans, short term insurance also allows you to purchase the exact amount of days that you need, but typically requires you to pay upfront for the period you need coverage.

What it is

Often called travel insurance plans, short term policies are specifically designed to cover both medical and travel experiences for a period of one year or less. They allow you to choose your own policy maximum and deductible, permitting you to stay in control of your coverage and the price.

What it does and doesn't offer

Since you can typically only have your coverage for one year, these plans will not cover for long term conditions like maternity, mental health and pre-existing conditions. However, they will provide coverage for new illnesses or injuries while on your trip, including doctor visits and hospitalizations. Travel benefits like trip interruption and lost luggage are also included, so be sure to check the policy wording for details.
Tip: Many short term plans exclude pre-existing condition coverage — Meaning that if you develop a condition on your first plan it may not be covered if you purchase a second short term plan.

Who it is for

Since domestic plans typically don't cover medical expenses overseas, these plans work well for both individuals and families traveling outside of their home country looking for general coverage. Frequent travelers also get great use of these plans, since travel associated benefits like lost luggage or trip interruption come standard.

These plans also work well for students on shorter study abroad programs who do not need to meet strict insurance requirements. In some cases, short term plans can be great options while waiting on long term coverage through an employer or a private company.

Costs and payment options

Short term plans are typically not renewable and are offered on a daily rate, allowing the purchaser to buy coverage for the exact period of time needed and help keep your overall cost down. If you plan on traveling to the United States and are under the age of 30 you can purchase a plan for as low as $38 a month.

If you need an insurance plan for a year or less, view our Atlas Travel plan . If you need short term coverage for a little longer, our Patriot Travel plan can be purchased up to two years and provides similar benefits.

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Long Term Health Insurance

What it is

Long term insurance plans (often called major medical insurance) are annually renewable and comprehensive options specifically designed for you to stay on the same plan for long periods of time. Since you will typically keep a major medical plan for many years, they are medically underwritten — meaning you will need to answer health questions to ensure you're qualified for coverage. Unlike travel plans, which allow you to choose your own policy maximum and deductible, long term insurance coverage is usually less flexible, but offers a higher policy maximum and additional benefits, like preventative care.

Who it is for

Long term international insurance plans work well for both individual expatriates and families needing coverage for at least one year. They also work well for international students, allowing them to keep the same insurance plan throughout their studies. Anyone with pre-existing conditions or planning to become pregnant would be interested in a long term plan as well, since newborns are generally added to a plan automatically and pre-existing conditions are covered automatically or after a waiting period.
Tip: Some long term insurance plans offer additional riders (at an extra cost) to cover maternity, dental and vision, which may not be covered by the plan automatically.

What it does and doesn't cover

While these plans are more costly they will provide many benefits not covered by short term plans, such as pre-existing condition coverage, wellness visits and preventative care. Of course no insurance plan can cover every visit, but long term options will generally offer the most coverage.

Costs and payment options

It is no secret that healthcare inside of the United States is costly, however long term international insurance plans don't have to break the bank. Plans like our Global Medical option would cost a family of four (age 40,35,9,5) about $265 per month, while the same family needing coverage outside of the U.S., China and Japan, would expect to pay about $200 a month for the same coverage. Premium payments are also more flexible, allowing payments to be made monthly, semi-annually, quarterly or annually.

Want More Information on Long Term Insurance?

To help you choose the best insurance plan possible, we've created a table to compare some of the most popular benefits of both short term and long term insurance plans. Of course, whether you choose a short term or long term health insurance plan, it's important to understand the policy terms and contact a licensed insurance agent before purchasing.

Quick Overview:
Short Term vs Long Term Insurance

Short Term Long Term
Duration Under 1 year Over 1 year
Renewability Typically not renewable Annually renewable
Inpatient Expenses Yes Yes
Outpatient Expenses Yes Yes
Prescriptions Yes Yes
Dependent Coverage Yes Yes
Pre-existing conditions No Yes
Maternity coverage No Yes
Trip Interruption Yes No
Wellness or Preventative Care No Yes
Lost Luggage Yes No
Emergency Medical Evacuation and Repatriation Yes Yes

If you think that a short term option will work best for your situation, our Atlas Travel option provides great coverage for up to 364 days. For long term coverage the Global Medical plan is a popular option, providing up to $5 million in coverage and allows riders for maternity, dental and vision. If you aren't sure which would work best for your situation or have specific questions, feel free to contact us for further guidance.

Return to our "Insurance Explained" section for more information and help