We’ve covered insurance for the van, but what about insurance for you while you’re on the road? Health insurance for van life is one of the more tricky things to figure out due to the nuances of each policy. It’s an important topic to discuss and unfortunately, it’s often forgotten about until the last minute.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for health insurance, and what policy you currently have might not be the best choice once you start traveling out of your home state. While I can’t possibly cover all of the options (and the options also may be subject to change), most van travelers are looking for affordable, quality insurance that will cover them nationwide.
I intend to help you get a basic understanding of your health insurance options and how to get coverage on the road so you can plan accordingly.
The Healthcare Marketplace
First, let’s talk about the Healthcare Marketplace – this is where you will shop for your insurance if you’re based in the United States and are self-employed or not currently working. If you’re traveling outside the United States, then you’ll instead be looking for a travel insurance policy.
In the US, you’ll find the Healthcare Marketplace online at Healthcare.gov, which is the central hub for health insurance. It is designed to help you find the coverage you need within your budget in the state you officially reside in. In order to apply, you’ll need to declare a specific state as your permanent residence, even if your actual residence has four wheels and you won’t be sticking around too long.
After you fill out an application, you’ll be provided with all the coverage options within a wide range of costs, which can fluctuate depending on your annual income.
While this could change, currently there are four plan categories: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. They increase in cost and coverage from bronze to platinum, with bronze plans being the least expensive and least coverage, up to platinum which has a higher premium but offers the most coverage.
Determining how much care you’ll need on the road is the next major factor in choosing coverage.
- How often do you need to go to a doctor and what types of doctors?
- Do you have expensive prescriptions?
- Do you have needs that require you to see a specialist regularly or you ok with general care?
The Healthcare Marketplace will lay out all of your options once you complete the application, which should help you determine the best plan for your needs and budget.
Other Healthcare Options
There are two other types of insurance plans that might be suitable for life on the road: catastrophic coverage and health-sharing.
Option 1: Catastrophic Insurance
Catastrophic insurance has a low monthly premium but a very high deductible and is only for major medical emergencies. Nothing else is covered, like visits to the doctor or prescriptions, and sometimes these plans are only available if you’re below a certain income level or age bracket and can prove that you can only afford emergency coverage. If you do a lot of outdoor activities with an associated level of risk but otherwise consider yourself healthy, this might be a good option to consider.
Option 2: Health-Sharing Services
Health-sharing services are a newer concept and are often faith-based. It’s like a co-op; all the members pool their money each month and split it between members. Many services are not covered, but it’s a viable option for some instances.
Option 3: Travel Insurance
Another option is to look into travel insurance plans that might provide health coverage on the road. Many nomads go this route, so it’s worth looking into and comparing with the Healthcare Marketplace options.
Other Healthcare Considerations
The big determinant in choosing health coverage is whether you’ll be traveling full-time or part-time and whether you’ll regularly return to a particular place. This will greatly affect the coverage options that will work for you.
The most important thing you’ll be looking for as a van lifer is whether out-of-network care is provided and whether the plan has a good nationwide network, with doctors located all over the country.
It’s important to note that many plans do not cover out-of-network providers, which means when you’re away from your home state and “out of network”, your services will not be covered by your insurance and you’d need to pay out of pocket.
Ideally, you’ll want a plan that will provide coverage everywhere via a nationwide network for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, and emergency services when out-of-state, but at the very least prescriptions and emergencies.
Unforeseen accidents and injuries do happen, so it’s wise to inquire about the plan’s nationwide network and out-of-network coverage.
Keep in mind that most plans are designed for the average person living in the same place for more than 6 months out of the year. So while the Healthcare.gov website will give you a good idea of what coverage is available within your budget and for different levels of care, from there you’ll want to contact the individual insurance companies to inquire about nationwide coverage specifically.
If you plan to return to a place once or twice a year, consider finding local practitioners for wellness visits and dental work and seek a plan that offers out-of-network emergency coverage at the very least.
Scheduling appointments when you’re back in your home area will help reduce the risk of having to pay more for someone out of state.
Before you hit the road in your van, you’ll want to take care of important doctor appointments and fill prescriptions. To make prescription services easier on the road, choose larger pharmacy networks like major grocery stores, Walmart, or Walgreens, for example, so you don’t have to transfer your prescriptions each time you move from place to place since they will already be in their computer systems.
While the healthcare rules change periodically, it’s worth mentioning that you may be penalized on your tax returns if you choose not to be insured while on the road.
Ultimately, this is a personal choice and depends on current healthcare rules, but it’s important to weigh all your options to find what’s best for you.
Something else to consider is investing in a Garmin InReach Rescue Insurance plan if you like to do a lot of backcountry adventuring. This is totally optional but will cover your transportation and some medical costs in the event of a life-threatening rescue.
- Healthcare Marketplace
- Garmin InReach Rescue Insurance Plan
- Wayward Home Guide to Van Life Health Insurance Options
Explore more van life lessons in Module 3
- Lesson 1: Packing for Van Life
- Lesson 2: Simplifying Your Routine
- Lesson 3: What to do With All Your Stuff
- Lesson 4: RV Insurance
- Lesson 5: Health Insurance (current lesson)
- Lesson 6: Establishing Residency & Getting Mail
Is health insurance something you are concerned about as a van lifer? Share your questions, tips, and experiences down in the comments, and make sure to sign up for course updates here.