Travel Nurse Health Insurance: Agency Insurance or Private?

Traveling Nurse

What should travel nurses do about health insurance?

How to handle health insurance as a travel nurse is a common question for many travelers. The decision to become a traveling nurse can open up a lot of exciting and unique opportunities most professions do not have. But before you sign the contract, and take care of your transportation and lodging needs, one of the biggest questions you may ask yourself is: What should I do about my personal health care? Should I take the agency coverage, or should I look into a personal plan? 

As a nurse for over 18 years, with many of them spent on the road, (before my 2 year old miracle baby!) one of the biggest concerns for me and many other travel nurses has been trying to figure out what was the best option for health coverage. After all, no one wants that kind of extra stress! I ended up finding a personal coverage policy that worked for me, and many in network of travelers were interested in the coverage I had found. With such good rapport with the insurance agency, I made the decision to become a licensed agent and try to specifically help others in the field of work I truly love. 

Agency Offered vs. Private Health Insurance

There are pros and cons to be considered when looking into personal vs. agency coverage.

Benefits to private insurance for travel nurses

When choosing private coverage over agency coverage, the pros will likely outweigh the cons. One of the biggest pros when choosing a private plan (like the ones available with Cigna) is full nationwide coverage. And not just varying from state to state or certain groups. No matter where you choose to go, your policy follows you with the same level of care you would receive when you are home. 

Health insurance between travel nurse assignments

No lapse in coverage. If you wanted to take a month or two off after an assignment to go hike the Rockies or go surfing at the Outer Banks, you wouldn’t have to worry about your finances if you had to make an unexpected visit to the ER. Your policy would be right there offering the same level of care you would get as if you injured yourself at home. And you wouldn’t have to worry about COBRA draining all of the extra money you put aside.

With some plans, there is little to no annual deductible. Yes, you read that right. Little to no annual deductible. There is nothing more discouraging than having to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket before your insurance plan kicks in.

Picking the best health insurance as a travel nurse

You can build a policy that fits your needs and works for you, not against you. Choose the essentials like dental and vision, as well as other important products specific to you and your family’s needs. Benefits such as life insurance, or accident protection to help if you suffered a catastrophic event. There are even plans that provide income protection, which is similar to short term disability. These come in handy if you become injured, and unable to work, while agency provided insurance would stop covering you after a certain time off of work.

Through an agency you could opt to pay much higher rates for COBRA, or anything available through your state’s marketplace. Most private plans base how much you pay depending on your health and age, not on your income.

Save money on health insurance and negotiate for higher contract pay: By choosing a private plan, (or opting out of the agency insurance) it can allow you to negotiate for higher pay. Because of your decision to opt out, the agency isn’t having to pay for the additional employee policy. They’re now spending less to employ you, and may choose to share those savings by paying you more.  

Limitations to private insurance for travel nurses

While there are several great reasons to choose a private health plan over agency provided coverage, there are also a few drawbacks. Some private plans are lacking when it comes to your annual wellness benefits. Some private plans do not provide good coverage for mental health. And without a caring and dedicated agent working with you, it might be too late to find out something like bariatric surgery, (covered by most marketplace plans) may not be an option with your private plan. So, it all depends on your needs.

Also important to note, you are charged on a monthly basis instead of weekly. If you are used to paying a certain amount out of check instead of a larger lump sum, it could take some budgeting to get used to.

Navigating private insurance options

There are a lot of companies that claim to offer “insurance” or accident payouts that are not accredited insurance companies. They make bold promises but bury all the stipulations in the fine print. A good agent will help you navigate through bad apples. A few examples would be cost sharing “programs” that aren’t real policies. They are a pool that all premiums go into, and all bills must be submitted for approval. If they aren’t approved, you are 100% responsible for all costs.

Another situation to be cautious of are short-term plans. These plans usually have to be renewed every 3-6 months. If you are diagnosed with something, the next time you have to renew your policy, they will consider that diagnosis as a pre-existing condition and won’t cover it anymore. Most of these plans also have 36 month (and sometimes longer) exclusions for preexisting conditions. Example: I spoke to a fellow nurse who had a short-term plan. About 4 months into the policy she was diagnosed with hypertension. When she renewed her policy at 6 months, she was told this was considered a pre-existing condition and was not covered. But it got worse, 2 months after her renewal she had a heart attack at 52 years old. The company told her nothing was covered at all because the heart attack was due to the “preexisting” hypertension. She had to take out a second mortgage on her home, and after 2 more large loans later, she still owes $16,000! I felt horrible and have heard too many stories like this so I had to add some information and caution to you regarding these plans. Usually if you need it for just what it states, short-term, like a week or two between contracts it’s good, but otherwise please be careful!

Taking the next step in weighing your insurance options

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!! You have picked a rewarding and exciting job within the nursing industry. And while there are probably a few more pros and cons when comparing health coverage, these are the biggest points I have in discussions with clients. Above all, make sure you do your research and find a quality insurance agent who can help you with all of your needs. 

If you have a genuinely good agent they’ll help you navigate your plan, and remind you of your benefits and how they work. I give a lot of my clients my personal cell phone number, along with my business line and email. I encourage them to please call me, especially travel nurses when they find out where they are going for their assignment. I look up the best urgent cares, ERs and even doctors in the area to make sure they accept their plan. That way instead of worrying about what would happen if you sprain your ankle in Jacksonville, when your primary doctor is in Reno, you can spend that time finding out who makes the best turkey club, or nearest thrift shops in the town you’ll be calling home during your assignment! 

Thank you to Victoria Russell for the awesome and informative content for this post! Victoria is a nurse of 18 years, as well as an independent insurance agent who specializes in helping other nurses (especially travelers) find and secure health insurance coverage.

If you’re interested in learning more or seeing what options she finds specific to your needs, give her a shout! Email her at VictoriaInsuranceAngel@gmail.com or call/text her at 716-821-2460. Also, find her on LinkedIn or Facebook.