Primary vs. Secondary Insurance: What's the Difference?

Travel medical insurance plans offer primary or secondary coverage, but the difference between primary and secondary insurance may be unclear to first time visitors insurance buyers. Depending on if the policy is primary or secondary, the plan will pay for the incident either first or second. Primary coverage policies pay for the loss or incident first. Secondary coverage policies pay if the loss or incident is not covered by the primary policy or pay the remaining amount after what was covered by the primary policy.

Primary Insurance Policy

If anything happens to you and you require medical attention, your primary insurance policy is the first to provide coverage, despite any other insurance policy you might have. The health insurance plan you have in your home country is considered your primary policy.

Secondary Insurance Policy

If your primary insurance covers the entire treatment costs, then your secondary insurance is not relevant. Your secondary insurance policy coverage begins where the primary policy coverage ends. If you do not have a policy with primary coverage, or your primary insurance policy does not cover a certain incident, your secondary coverage automatically becomes your primary coverage.

Visitors Insurance

If you have medical insurance and purchase a visitors insurance plan, your visitors insurance policy is your secondary coverage. However, once you are abroad and no longer covered by your regular medical insurance policy, your travel medical insurance plan becomes your primary coverage by default. When you are outside of your primary policy’s coverage area, your visitors insurance plan takes over as your primary policy.

How Does Secondary Insurance Work?

If you require medical attention during a trip and your primary policy only pays a portion of the costs, your secondary policy will take effect and cover the rest of the costs up to the plan limits. Your visitors insurance policy will also automatically take effect if you are traveling outside the coverage area of your primary policy. For more details, learn how visitors insurance works.

When to Buy Secondary Coverage Insurance

To avoid risk, it is advised that you have health insurance wherever you are. Even if you have health insurance in your home country, it may not provide coverage once you leave the country or travel outside of a certain area. If your primary insurance policy is not in effect or you have exhausted its benefits, being without a secondary insurance policy could leave you paying thousands of dollars in medical bills out-of-pocket. These and other reasons are why you should buy visitors insurance as your secondary policy.

If you have two health insurance policies, your primary insurance is the policy that pays for the incident first. Only if your primary policy does not cover a certain incident or treatment will your secondary policy come into effect.


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