As students prepare for Duke-affiliated study abroad this summer, Student Health encourages them to be aware of the benefits and restrictions of their respective insurance plans.
Two forms of special travel health coverage that students can consider for their semester or summer abroad—BlueCard Worldwide and International SOS—are made available through Duke. BlueCard is part of the StudentBlue insurance plan to which around 50 percent of students are subscribed, and ISOS is a Duke-affiliated organization that covers students traveling on Duke-related excursions such as DukeEngage. Although both offer comprehensive care such as medical evacuation and repatriation of mortal remains, BlueCard is limited to costs for medically necessary procedures and ISOS is not considered a form of health insurance and may have surcharges on its services.
“When something happens abroad, in the case you need to be [medically] evacuated… [these] benefits are what most students don’t take the time to read, because you never think you’re going to have an emergency when you travel,“ said Student Insurance Manager Anna Kenyon.
Kenyon noted that Duke students have been hospitalized before in foreign countries without insurance and received large medical bills as a result.
BlueCard insurance and ISOS both offer travel advising, prescription medication replacement, legal referrals and emergency medical transport. Their services also cover the costs spent on medically evacuating students or returning mortal remains back to their country of origin.
The ISOS website states, however, that since ISOS is not insurance, fees may apply to certain services with additional charges, which students may not be billed for until they return from their time abroad. The website also states that it is necessary for Duke-related travelers to maintain health insurance while abroad.
In contrast, Kenyon said BlueCard will limit the maximum students have to pay out of pocket for medical emergencies to $2500. Kenyon emphasized, however, that students with BlueCard must contact the insurance agency as soon as something happens—noting that students in the past neglected to do so and were unable to apply their benefits.
“The entity that arranges all of these services is BlueCard, and BlueCard is a separate entity from Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Kenyon said. “If it’s not arranged through them, [medical services] won’t get paid, no matter how much we call, ask for administrative waivers or anything.”
Furthermore, Kenyon noted that BlueCard does not cover costs required for a person to accompany the student throughout the evacuation or repatriation process. The Student Blue Benefit Booklet states that the evacuation has to be strictly medically necessary—meaning that in the event of social unrest or disasters, students cannot use their BlueCard to cover the costs of evacuating dangerous areas.
ISOS, on the other hand, covers these services that BlueCard does not. Wanet Sparks, travel and allergy nurse, said ISOS applies to all staff and students traveling on Duke-related business. Students have the option of combining ISOS with any health insurance plan, including BlueCard.
“Anything related that has a Duke label on it, they’re eligible for [ISOS],” Sparks said. “It covers for political unrest and weather issues as well.”
In addition to assisting students in security-related evacuation, the ISOS website notes that the service will cover companion tickets and transportation for accompanying family.
Eric Mlyn, executive director of DukeEngage and assistant vice provost for civic engagement, said DukeEngage advises students about how to maintain health through international travel clinic appointments and DukeEngage Academy—a series of pre-travel workshops designed to address concerns students may have prior to beginning their summer abroad. DukeEngage also provides students with an emergency contact card that includes the numbers of ISOS offices.
“DukeEngage emphasizes that participants are the ones best situated to take responsibility for their own well-being and for ensuring access to health insurance coverage,” Mlyn wrote in an email Sunday.
Mlyn added that DukeEngage helps students by explaining the requirement of health insurance coverage abroad and encouraging students to look over their insurance policy’s out-of-network benefits or consider purchasing a supplemental, short-term international medical insurance policy.
Students who have participated in DukeEngage said that they were equipped with an awareness of ISOS, if not knowledge of its specifics.
“I don’t think I would’ve liked being airlifted, but I definitely would have used ISOS if I had an emergency,” said sophomore Eric Mastrolonardo, who participated in DukeEngage in Zhuhai, China last summer.
Sophomore Patty Shi was on the same DukeEngage trip to Zhuhai, but she said ISOS was not discussed in-depth with the students and that many were unsure of the benefits they had.
“Personally, I just relied on my insurance from home,” Shi said. “But I definitely would have been interested in learning more about the program.”