Health Insurance 101 while working on a US Visa

So most people have probably heard scary stories about the US Health system and/or seen Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko and have a lot pre conceived notions about the US Health System.
Look Michael Moore did focus on the absolute worst types of cases to get his message across but the genesis core of his message is true.

The US Health System is first and foremost a business and secondary a process for caring for people!

So while there a few exceptions, most processes follow that rule and also is why the corporate players in this industry make a lot of money  (i.e. owners of clinics, pharmaceutical executives, owners of pharmacies, etc.).

As foreigners (or non=immigrants as we are classified) on a working visa like H-1B, L-1, E-3, etc. or other types of visa like J-1 we also have an additional set of things we need to be wary of when living in the US. Some states like Massachussets make health insurance mandatory either via the employer or paying yourself.

For the true working visas; H-1B, L-1, E-3, etc. there is no specific requirement that you have health insurance. In most cases you will be with employer who either mostly or fully pay your monthly premiums on your behalf for medical, prescription, dental and vision insurance. At the corporate negotiated rates this probably amounts to hundreds of dollars a month (probably minimum $350-$400/month for all three).

There is no public health system in the US…Repeat….There is no public health system in the US

So If your employer does not provide you with private health insurance and you don’t take it out yourself, you are not covered for anything in any situation. Should you choose to visit a doctor for a general check up at the casual rate, your bill can run into the hundreds of dollars!

While I will give you further tips in another post, even if you have health insurance, the insurers are looking to deny you coverage at any possible opportunity so don’t assume automatically they will pay for your visit. Like I said it is a business firstly!

So stay tuned in the future as I will tell you how to frame doctor visits and write letters to insurance companies to appeal their ridiculous judgments.

For the J-1 visa holders, your health insurance is mandatory in most cases and either via your sponsor organization or an approved insurer you will need to pay for a travel type insurance policy. (occasionally some interns will have nice employers that provide them full insurance but this is rare).

This travel policy generally is designed to cover only the basics when you are truly sick or hurt performing general activities. It is not for general check ups, issues with sexuality/pregnancy, usually only emergency minimal dental, no optical coverage, no alternative care or chiropractic, etc.

Depending on your policy for all visa holders , you will also have to pay what is known as a co-pay (co-payment) for your doctor visits and this ranges mostly between $0-50 depending on your plan. So often even with full coverage insurance that applies to your visit you will still have to pay money! This increases even more if you are talking about hospital visits and surgeries.

I know this post sounds like all doom and gloom…well it is for a large proportion of US citizens as well but I will do my best in my posts to help you navigate through the mess! 🙂


7 thoughts on “Health Insurance 101 while working on a US Visa

  1. Good post and not only for the people in working visa! Thank you
    waiting for the next posts

  2. Thanks Stefan for the kind words. I will continue to write and try and help about both US life and Visa info.

  3. Most of this article is still valid, but I would like to see if the recent reform has changed any of this information in your opinion

  4. Hi Adam,
    The recent reform know as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or sometimes as Obamacare is not going to effect most foreign professionals on US visa as their employer probably is providing that as part of the overall benefits. J-1 visa holders are required to have proven insurance as a condition of their visa.

  5. Hi C.J,

    Do you know if I have to purchase U.S healthcare while I am on the E-3 visa?

    Thank you for your help.


  6. Hi CJ,
    You keep saying “employer is probably paying healthcare”. My employer isn’t. Where do I find information about how to buy it privately?

  7. Has anyone purchased private health insurance in the USA personally while on the E-3 Visa? If so, can you share with who?

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