Seven years ago, 21-year-old Emily was heading off for her first solo trip abroad (to Vietnam) when the word “travel insurance” was dropped in one of the friendly emails from the adventure travel group I’d signed up with. Travel insurance? Huh? Wasn’t that a thing for old worrywarts? I had no intention of purchasing travel insurance, and I thought that was normal.

I thought this was normal because I am American and I was raised in the United States, a country where health insurance is not a right but a privilege.

I wasn’t a privileged, fancy traveler. I was just a regular person looking for a cultural experience in Southeast Asia. After talking with a few, more-traveled friends I realized I did indeed need to purchase a bit of (affordable) extra protection, and boy-oh-boy am I glad I did. Not because anything happened in Vietnam. Nope, I traipsed from bottom to top of that magical place with only a quick stomach bug (from a lunch with monks in the countryside), which some sleep and a Vietnamese version of Gatorade cured in no time. But I’m happy I purchased travel insurance on that trip as a 21 year-old, because it led to me adding travel insurance to my preparation checklist on every international trip I’ve had since then.

And there have been many.

 

And as luck would have it, during my trip to Indonesia this summer, I picked up a nasty bacterial something in the quiet hills of Lombok. Granted, this probably happened from chowing down on Gado Gado (my favorite, peanut-filled Indonesian meal) at a place that lacked refrigeration… but anywho! I got sick. And I mean, can’t leave bed, can’t eat food, can’t open your eyes for more than five minutes kind of sick. And guess what? I had travel insurance. A trip to the Lombok emergency clinic got me sorted with an IV, some meds, and a 450 Euro bill.

But guess what? I got every cent of that bill covered, thanks to the travel insurance I purchased for about 60 Euros from Seven Corners (not an ad. I’m just really happy with my experience).

And while I still plan to travel, traipse, and taste my way through this world, despite the Corona craze, there is one thing I wish more travelers had on their side. And that’s health insurance. Because it’s our duty and responsibility as educated foreigners to respect the resources and infrastructures of the various countries we’re visiting. I’m young, female, and have a robust immune system. If I get Coronavirus, I will most likely be fine. But you know who might not be? The thousands of elderly folks I might brush past in a market in Padang. And it would be downright irresponsible to pack the knowledge and awareness of a westerner and not seek help and treatment abroad if you start experiencing corona-like symptoms. And you know how you can do that? With travel insurance.

I would rest my case here, if it weren’t for the second part of this:

My unmistakable American-ness.

Americaninity?

(Now taking suggestions for a better word.)

You see, what really has me worried in these coronadays of winter, is my ol’ home country of the United States. Because every time I hear news of folks being tested or treated for Coronavirus, I think of the thousands, or maybe even millions, who aren’t seeking treatment for one very simple reason:

Money.

When I graduated college in New York City, I was booted off of my parent’s health insurance and left to find my own coverage as an artist in New York. I was making enough money to survive, but the “gig life” meant that no company was paying for my health insurance, and I sure wasn’t making enough money to afford any of the other options. And I’m not an exception. I can’t even count the number of uninsured friends I had, who insisted “I’m healthy! I’ll be fine.” Artists and freelancers simply cannot afford health insurance in the United States.

So I looked around for months, and eventually found Oscar, a modern and streamlined healthcare startup, trying to make insurance more accessible for people just like me. Want to know how it worked? I paid $160/ month. I had a cool app where I could ask a doctor about my cold symptoms, or send in pictures of a questionable spot on my skin, and I got one free physical a year. But you know what else I got? A deductible of $7,000. What does that mean? That means that if I were to get sick, with say, a cold or flu that I thought might be Coronavirus, I could definitely walk to a doctor’s office and get seen by a doctor. And I would pay every cent of that, most likely, $250 consultation. And then if I wanted to be tested or treated, I would pay every cent of what would be thousands of dollars of medical care, until that bill reached $6999.99.

You know who can afford that?

Not a single freelancer or artist that I know.

And this is what scares me about Coronavirus. Because if I still lived in the United States and started experiencing corona-like symptoms. I would not go to the doctor, because rent was due last week. And then I would get on the subway. And then I would touch a few apples (I’m picky) in the Whole Foods at 59th street. And then I’d touch the milk caddy at Ninth Street Espresso. I could go on and on. And I would be fine. But think of the hundreds, thousands, and eventually, millions of people who would not be. And that is not ok.

In case you haven’t figured this out by now, I’m not a doctor. And for the simple facts as to how to avoid, prevent, and stop the spread of the Coronavirus, I urge you to stick to the reliable sources, like the WHO. I’m just a responsible, sometimes boring, gal who travels like hell, and has no intention of stopping. But with conditions. There are entire countries whose economies depend on tourism, and it kills me to think of the people now suffering from this glorified common flu. But what hurts me a bit more is to think of the healthcare systems in these countries which simply can’t handle the risk of an outbreak. The fear is so palpable that they’re closing off their livelihoods and sealing off their ports to the very thing that keeps them alive. So let’s respect that. Let’s travel responsibly, and educate ourselves as to how and what we can do to keep the people most vulnerable to Coronavirus away from any possible contagions.

And that education starts at home, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, where folks like me can’t afford to see the doctor. And while I’d like to sit here snug as a bug in a rug with my decision to move abroad, I instead feel a bit sad every time I look at the insurance card that protects me so well (and affordably) in Europe. Knowing that millions of people in the US don’t know that feeling, is usually disappointing. But these days, it’s not the quarantine in Italy, not the temperature checks at airports, and certainly not the comprehensive healthcare systems of many countries all over the world, that scare me.

It’s the United States of America.