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Is It Possible to Travel the World With Health Insurance Savings?

My parents traveled around the world while making sure they could cover any medical expenses that they might need.

World Travelers

 Cecil and Lucile in Kauai, Hawaii 1978

Cecil and Lucile in Kauai, Hawaii 1978

Mom and Dad loved to travel. Though it was expensive, they managed their money well enough that they could be prepared for unexpected health services, as well as seeing the world.

This was a few years back, but they had already survived the great depression, a wartime economy, and even an earthquake that destroyed most of their city. Neither of them came from a wealthy family; in fact both of their parents were on the low side of the economic scale.

By honest hard work and frugal habits, they built a life for their family and managed their modest finances well. Dad was a small businessman who formed a partnership with his good friend after WWII ended and started a print shop.

Most of their customers were also small businesses who needed invoices, inventory lists, letterheads and envelopes. This was before the time of computer-generated business forms, and the growing economy needed printers to provide for various business needs.

Did They Need Insurance?

The printing business grew, and though they were not getting rich, they were making a comfortable living for their families and gaining more customers by referrals from those who were pleased with their prices and quality.

This was in the late 1940s and early 50s when the health insurance started to become popular. Several life insurance companies were entering the health insurance field and offering group plans.

Before the 1920s, medical science provided little help for most patients. Advanced pharmaceuticals, sophisticated testing diagnostic and treatment procedures which are common today, did not exist.

Patients were usually treated at home by a general practitioner. Even surgery was sometimes performed in private homes in those times. People had relatively low medical costs.

Chickens, eggs and homegrown vegetables were sometimes bartered for medical services. People depended on family, friends churches and fraternal groups to help them through really tough times that might be caused by illness and medical expenses.

Some employed workers began buying "sickness" insurance, similar to today's "disability" insurance, because loss of income from being sick was much more of a financial concern than merely paying a doctor's bill.

In the following three decades, several changes made medical care more available, effective and expensive. People with serious illness were more likely to be treated in hospitals, and to require some extra costs for tests.

These changes and others caused the price of treatment to rise as demand for (and costs of) medical care went up.

His Own Business

Dad's first print shop-  "Barton and Cannon Printing"Long Beach -1947

Dad's first print shop- "Barton and Cannon Printing"Long Beach -1947

Financial Considerations

By about 1959, Dad and his partner started thinking about about health insurance for themselves and their families. Some large businesses were offering the incentive of health coverage with group plans.

By this time, about 70 percent of Americans had some kind of health coverage to help pay for extra medical treatments and hospital stays which were increasingly more common and expensive .

Unfortunately, healthcare premiums were expensive. As a business run by two individuals, my dad and his partner did not qualify for a group rate. Individual health insurance would be a financial impossibility, costing about 60 dollars a month-- a whopping $720 a year for each partner.

Perhaps that does not sound like a lot, but in times when yearly income for an average middle-class family was around $2500, it was a considerable percentage of their take home pay.

Being in their mid-forties, Mom and Dad knew they should start thinking about future health needs, even though they were both in good health at the time.

They decided that their best choice was to pay a set amount into an interest-bearing savings account of their own, rather than giving money to the insurance company year after year.

(This was also several years before the U.S. Government enacted the Medicare program for senior health care, in 1965.)

At $50 per month, they were still paying quite a bit in, but at least they were paying it to themselves and not giving it away to an insurance company.

The rules they set for themselves were:

1.) They could use the money only for medical services, and they would continue paying a monthly amount.

2.) After their own contributions and accumulating interest, reached a level that they thought would cover unexpected medical needs, they would keep making regular payments, but they would they would use some of the "extra" money for travel.

Post cards from around the world--  Moscow, Athens, Agra, and Cusco.

Post cards from around the world-- Moscow, Athens, Agra, and Cusco.

A Healthy Side-Effect

After four years of saving, they took their first European group tour which cost $829 per person. They flew in the new Boeing 707 jet , and for four weeks they visited France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Monaco and England.

In the next 20 years they made 14 major trips and a few smaller ones, using their "health and travel" account. They saw the South Pacific and Caribbean, China, Japan, Russia, Poland, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, India , Iran, Thailand, and several other countries.

They made multiple visits to many of the worlds major capitals and cities. They cruised the Nile, the Rhine and the Amazon, marveled at the Alps and the Himalayas, and saw the famous arts and antiquities of the world's great cultures,as well as many natural wonders..

Would it be possible to do this today? Could people put away a "premium amount" in their own personal account that would cover medical expenses?

They were initially saving about $600 per year, (around 20% of their total income) but after reaching a certain level, they were putting their "insurance fund" in high yield CD's that were earning as much as 12% at certain times. They continued to pay their personal premiums to themselves, raising them a little each year, and luckily, had excellent health.

Kamakura, Japan -1973

Kamakura, Japan -1973

Times have changed and everything is more expensive these days-- especially medical services, treatments and hospital care.

In 2007, the median annual US household income was about $50,233. if a person put away 20% that would amount to a little over $10,000 in a year.

Annual Premiums for family coverage in 2007 was a little over $12,000 from one major provider. Workers with group coverage through their employer paid about $3,300 per year.

That is a big difference, but one thing to consider is that those premiums going to an insurance company, could be going into your savings or investment account. (It's called "saving".)

Would it work for you in today's economy? Maybe not. If you have children at home, and access to group coverage, it might not be the best choice. You have to crunch the numbers with consideration of your own circumstances.

However, if you are self- employed or paying a very high premium and if you are motivated with the necessary self-discipline, it still might be an option to consider. It depends upon your personal health and family situation.


Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 10, 2017:

Sure sounds like it. They try to get whatever they can get away with–as long as no one complains. Since patients don't pay the bills they don't care, and don't even notice.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 10, 2017:

Hmm... I have noticed before on payment notices, two office visit charges for the same doctor on the same day. Maybe He's charging for a waiting room visit, too. I'll have to go back and check that.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 10, 2017:

Yes, I agree with what you just said about insurance costs going up because doctors charge more knowing that insurance will pay. For that reason, I always thought it would be better if insurance companies shared with clients what their doctors were charging and what they were paying.

I am one of a few who insist on knowing, and I discovered one of my doctors abusing the system with ridiculous bills.

When I saw that my insurance company actually paid it, it let them know that they should be more careful. My doctor charged for my using the waiting room in addition to other services. Believe it! The insurance company paid the bill because he used a legitimate billing code.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 10, 2017:

Thank you for reading and commenting , Glenn. Yes, you are right. It would be much harder to do today. Interest was much higher and medical costs were lower. I do believe, however, that part of the reason that costs have gone up is because most people have insurance. Hospitals and providers charge more because they know insurance will pay. I know modern medical technology is expensive, but I still think insurance has played a big part in boosting fees.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 10, 2017:

Wonderfully written story Rochelle. I like how you used the story of your parent's travels to lead into their health insurance strategies.

It worked in those days because, as you said, they were able to use high paying CDs for the health insurance savings account.

Today our interest rates are near zero, and will have to be kept that low since the national debt tripled in the past eight years. If interest rates are higher it would be impossible to keep the debt under control.

I did notice, in the past year, that the United States debit is decreasing for the first time in my life. So the idea of saving for one’s own insurance might become feasible once again in the future. But it will take time before the Fed can really start increasing interest rates to any significant value once again.

In the meantime, to answer your question at the end of your article, the strategies your parents used are difficult to attain today. Actually, there is no good solution—since insurance premiums have increased so much without any good options available.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 09, 2011:

I'm glad you read it, Cardisa. Yes, they did well. Running your own business isn't easy. Dad had his business ups and downs, but he worked hard. Even though they did a lot of traveling, they otherwise lived a rather modest lifestyle.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on September 09, 2011:

What a great story. Your parents really came through well. Thanks for sharing.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 25, 2011:

Yes, not what we usually think of as health insurance, but it worked well for them. They did it without the government . . . and without private companies.

health insurance on June 30, 2010:

nice information about health insurance, this is very informative thanks for sharing ...

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 22, 2010:

Thanks for your comment. It was not always easy work, but it gave our family a good middle-class life. They found a way to take care of their own health care benefits.

LondonGirl from London on February 26, 2009:

there is a small printer near our flat, and he's still quite busy.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 26, 2009:

Yeah -- small printers are obsolete, I suppose. Sad. Although I do love having the ability to print stuff up for myself.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 26, 2009:

He was in a good line of work for the time he was in it. Now that everyone has computers and 'printers' the small print shop is obsolete. I always loved being there, and I still like paper, too.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 26, 2009:

That's it, indeed: when you have to keep the business going, you do whatever it takes. He was in a great line of work, though (I drooooool over stationary and letterheads -- what is it about paper that is so satisfying?).

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 26, 2009:

I'm sure much of it came out of their "living through the hard times" experiences--plus the fact that my dad and his partner ran their own business. When you are the boss, you keep your job by keeping your business going.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 26, 2009:

What intelligent people -- sounds wonderful. They really knew what they were doing.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 26, 2009:

That sums it up very well.

LondonGirl from London on February 26, 2009:

Your parents sound great - sensible, but also really enjoyed themselves.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 02, 2009:

Thank you for your kind and insightful comments.

Times have changed-- and not always for the better. I'm glad you shared your brother's story. It used to be that families survived by working together. I'll bet doctors today would not dare to suggest such a common-sense treatment for fear of malpractice suit or denail of payment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 02, 2009:


Great personal story about your parents and how they handled their money after the Great Depression........especially with regard to saving for medical emergencies and trips, etc.

Prior to our current system of insurance companies truly ruling what doctors can and cannot do.......it was better. And you are correct in that doctors in the past used to barter. They became doctors first and foremost to help people. In home visits were normal and they "knew" their patients and financial circumstances.

My youngest brother was a very young baby with pneumonia. Our family doctor at that time actually told my parents to keep him home instead of putting him in the hospital. He thought that he would have a better chance of surviving surrounded by people who loved him and getting needed attention on a 24/7 basis. My parents were instructed to close off the doors to the kitchen and flood it with steam. They held him in an upright position day and night with my parents, grandparents.........and yes........even the doctor!.....taking turns. My brother survived and the good doctor took very little for his thoughtful and caring medically applied expertise.

Saving was a virtue and a common practice back then. People saved up for what they needed and about the only things financed were major purchases like homes and cars. Mortgage burning parties were held when homes were paid off in full according to what my mother has told me.

So much has changed and not always for the better. Thanks for this look back at how things used to be. Your parents were smart and fortunate to have enjoyed good health and happy travels. You, as their daughter, have obviously absorbed some of their good advice and have many happy memories of them.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 21, 2009:

Thanks RGraf, I guess they did what they needed to. Where there's a will... there's a way to make things work.

Cristoph, sorry I didn't see you comment until now. Yes that print shop smell is very nostalgic to me-- I think it's partly kerosine, but stacks and stacks of new paper has a certain smell too. I love office supply stores. Weird, isn't it?

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on December 28, 2008:

Great article! I read not so long ago that it was better to do as your parents did in lieu of purchasing life insurance (I don't think it applies to health insurance anymore--as it's costs have compounded so drastically.) It's very interesting that your folks were so far ahead of the curve.

On a side note, I really miss the old "mom & pop" print shops and office supply stores! God, how I loved them even as a kid, just to look around and smell that smell. To this day I am an office supply nut case! Thanks for that memory!

Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on November 24, 2008:

This is what my parents had done and I had forgotten all about it. We're going to try doing that soon since my status changed so.

Thanks for the reminder.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 17, 2008:

Thank for the comment, Sixtyorso-- Yes "insurance companies" were originally mutual help societies-- some of them came out of Fraternal organizations. Here in gold country of California , rganiizations such as the "Odd Fellows Lodge" came together so that mine workers families would be protected in case of mining accidents.

One of the current members told me that their tradition came from a group of Roman soldiars who agreed that they would pitch in hand help families of soldiers who were maimed or killed in battle. Caesar apparently called the group "odd fellows" who would consider helping each other in such a way.

Sweetie, thanks for the comment. They were very practical and good people.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on November 11, 2008:

Very interesting story. Your parents were definitely ahead of the time :).

Clive Fagan from South Africa on November 10, 2008:

Hi Rochelle. It is interesting to note that that is exactly how insurance companies, mutual loan and savings associations and banks started. If you could get a family group or friends to share in such a scheme and divvy up the profits, who knows. You may actually restart the original schemes and share in the profits instead of allowing the obcene profits made by today's health care, insurance and banking companies to go to the corporate gluttons.

Great hub.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 09, 2008:

I guess-- My dad had two brothers, all of them very nice men, but he was more handsome-- maybe just a daughter's perception.

Jerilee Wei from United States on November 08, 2008:

Not my dad, but they could be twins, mine's still alive at 81, just a weird coincidence I guess.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 08, 2008:

Lissie-- My parents were traveling in Peru with another couple of friends. When they were high atop the mountains in Macchu Picchu. Mom's friend tripped over some ancient stones and broke her ankle. Since the bus only made two trips a day, her friend was taken back down the steep mountain on a donkey. (The road is a long series of switchbacks and hairpin turns that takes an hour in a bus.) Her friend had the ankle set and casted in a Cuszco hospital and the bill was surprisingly low. Unfortunately she had to go home. My folks continued through S. America.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 07, 2008:

Thanks for all your comments-- I will try to respond to each, eventually.

Jerilee== Is that your dad in the picture? Yes he does look a little like mine. My dad was 82 ( minus a couple of weeks) when he died in 1994.

Weightlossideas== Creative and imaginaitive? Maybe-- but maybe more practical and common-sensical. They were used to stretching pennies and did it out of necessity for much of their life. i'm very glad they got to enjoy some of the rewards of their work.

Donna== Dad had good ideas, but I think it might have been Mom who really got this going. She was very good about figuring out how to do things --- AND she was the one who really wanted to see the world.

Lissie== isn't it amazing that insurance companies own all of those big beautiful expensive buildings? I wonder what would happen if more people took control of their own resources.

Hi Glenn== is it raining downn there yet? Yeah , I know what you mean about the government-- and so many people depend on IT to take care of their needs.

Glenn Frank from Southern California on November 07, 2008:

Saving Money for a rainy day... what a concept!

maybe our government should learn a lesson from this!

Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on November 07, 2008:

Yup compound interest versus a lottery - with someone else controlling the rules! I stopped taking out travel insurance when I had 2 genuine robbery claims declined - well not declined but they wanted original reciepts for cameras Id owned for years! I also met someone who had ended up in hospital in south america- he was worried about the cost becaue the room was so comfortable the staff so good -it turned out to be less than he'd been paying at the backpackers!

Joan Adams on November 07, 2008:

Delightful story with a great lesson! We all need to be doing this!

Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on November 07, 2008:

What a wonderful payoff for your father's idea.

weightlossideas on November 07, 2008:

Wow, this is very interesting, your parents were really smart people. They not only accomplished a lot, they were very creative. I am impressed by their keen sense of imagination. I'm sure you learnt a lot of smarts just from being around them.

Jerilee Wei from United States on November 07, 2008:

What a delightful idea that was ahead of it's time and good hub! Shocked to see how much your dad resembles my dad physically, considering we came from the same area.

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