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I work in US on a H1 visa and my parents are visiting for couple months. My mom has developed arthritis and I wanted to get second opinion from a doctor in US.

I understand healthcare costs are really high in US, so trying to get more clarity on the following:

  • Since I work in US on H1B visa, is it possible for me to cover my parents under the insurance provided by my employer?
  • Is there any particular visitor insurance I can take for my mom that would cover an expense like this one?
  • Any idea of the costs I could incur if I am not able to find an insurance to cover this?

Thank you!

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    What do you want the second opinion for? To say whether this is definitively arthritis? Or a second opinion about the treatment plan? – bremen_matt Apr 13 at 11:11
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    Also... do you really just want such an opinion? Or are you also asking about whether she could get "treated" on the US – bremen_matt Apr 13 at 11:12
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Since I work in US on H1B visa, is it possible for me to cover my parents under the insurance provided by my employer?

Probably not. This is generally only available for your spouse and dependent children, and even then, you usually can't add people to your policy at any time, only during certain times of the year or at times when your circumstances change.

Is there any particular visitor insurance I can take for my mom that would cover an expense like this one?

If she has medical insurance at home that covers her abroad, certainly see what is covered. Beyond that, you aren't likely to find great options at this point. Temporary coverage for visitors certainly exists, but there's no way it could be a profitable business if it worked the way you want: you've waited until she already needs medical care to buy insurance. That's like trying to buy homeowners insurance while your house is on fire. Short-term and travel insurance policies have significant limitations and exclusions that usually preclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Any idea of the costs I could incur if I am not able to find an insurance to cover this?

While health care costs are high in the US, it's certainly possible to see a doctor and pay the (inflated) uninsured price. In some cases, discounts may be available for people without insurance, and you should certainly ask about that up front.

The cheapest option is likely to be a "doc-in-a-box" clinic, often staffed by a nurse practitioner, at a drug store in some states. This is likely to be under $100, but is really meant more for routine matters: infections requiring antibiotics, strep throat, a check and prescription refills for ongoing health conditions, school/employment physicals, etc... It's not where you'd want to go for a second opinion on arthritis. Urgent care facilities are staffed to a higher level and can handle more care. The cash price may be up to $200, but could increase if they run tests while you're there. Still, as the name implies, that's more for urgent (but non-emergency) situations: serious cuts requiring stitches, fractures, sudden illness, etc... It's probably not the best place for this either unless she's having an immediate flare-up and needs help.

Some general practitioners (uninsured price for a visit is likely to be under $200, but ask, and any lab tests would be separate) can treat arthritis, but a second opinion probably implies that you want a specialist, namely a rheumatologist. A specialist is likely to charge more, perhaps up to a few hundred dollars, but you can call up local rheumatologists offices, explain that your mother is uninsured and the situation, and ask what they'd charge for an office visit (they may be unable to answer). If she had lab tests back home, she could request the results and bring them.

Prescription medications, particularly brand name drugs not available as generics, can be extremely expensive in the United States. If she is prescribed any drugs for her condition, those may be absurdly unaffordable (they also may not be available back home to continue her care). Doctors often don't know how much drugs cost, but that's something to discuss with the doctor if medication is prescribed as well as ensuring that she'll be able to continue taking it when she goes home.

  • Also a rheumatologist or other specialist if they're not independent may require a referral from a general practitioner. It may be difficult to get appointments for either or both of those. – mkennedy Apr 12 at 22:33
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    OP can also do what millions of Americans do and just go to Mexico. Much cheaper and no referrals required. – JonathanReez Apr 13 at 0:44
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    Even as expensive as health care is in the US, if you're not near the border, the cost of traveling to/from Mexico could well be more expensive than a single office visit to get a consultation with a rheumatologist. – Zach Lipton Apr 13 at 2:52
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    Right. I honestly think that if the OP really just wants a consultation (not treatment, and with no expensive CAT scans or the like), then the best approach would just be to do the consultation in the US out of pocket – bremen_matt Apr 13 at 11:59
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I think Zach hit the nail on the head. Insurance is not an option at this point.

If you want to have her seen by a US doctor because you perceive the quality of care to be different, then you might just want to wait for their next visit, and have her get travel abroad health insurance BEFORE she leaves on the trip.

I live in Germany, and this insurance costs under 50€/year for the whole family. I would highly recommend such insurance for absolutely everybody before travelling to the US because of the high costs of medical care there. If your appendix bursts (which can happen to anybody at any time) then you could be looking at a bill of 25k. There are a million horror stories that you can read online.

In any event, since you already know what the issue you want investigated is, then you can shop for an insurer where such consultations and perhaps even treatments are guaranteed to be covered. It seems to be that some (perhaps most) travel insurances may not cover what you want investigated because it is not a sudden illness. I'm not sure of exactly the wording in these types of insurnaces, but I might guess that they do not provide coverage for chronic conditions, like arthritis.

I would guess that to be the case for the following reason... suppose I have a bad back. What's to stop me from getting such insurance, then going to the US to let them run a battery of tests that could cost 1000s? For that reason, I would guess that travel insurnace does not cover chronic conditions.

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    Second opinion consultations are mostly not covered by travel insurance policies, as you state in the later part of your answer. That makes the first part of your answer useless, as it will not help with the problem. Can you edit the answer to make it more helpful? – Willeke Apr 13 at 11:19
  • I understand that. Hence I suggest that he specifically find an insurance provider that DOES cover what it is he is looking for. That will be the tricky part. – bremen_matt Apr 13 at 11:21
  • I also think that somebody should point out that if all he wants is a consultation, then he might just want to suck it up and pay. If he wants treatment, then he should definitely get insurnace – bremen_matt Apr 13 at 11:21
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    In many places health insurance companies exclude pre-existing conditions from their coverage, in the USA that is norm, so a new insurance may not help at all. – Willeke Apr 13 at 11:56
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    @Willeke: it means most working-age people get health coverage from their employer. Elderly 65+ are covered by Medicare, a government program, and children are usually covered on their parent/s' plan. Otherwise, if you aren't employed or your employer doesn't offer a plan (many small employers don't), you must buy in the 'individual' market, which traditionally was expensive due to adverse selection and overhead, but now the ACA 'marketplace' is available to legal residents with some exclusions -- but apparently not tourists – dave_thompson_085 Apr 13 at 16:28

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