An Experience in an Italian Emergency Room Without Travel Medical Insurance


Americans know that when visiting an emergency room in the United States, there is only one guaranteed outcome, and it is not a swift recovery.  What is guaranteed, however, is an astronomical medical bill causing some families to claim bankruptcy or enter into long-term payment plans.  This reality instills fear in many Americans, especially those who are uninsured or under-insured.  Travelers who are accustomed to this type of medical system often explore travel medical insurance options before departing for another country.  But is that really necessary when traveling to Italy?

In Italy, healthcare is generally free.  But what about for Americans or non-Italian citizens?  In my own personal experience throughout the years, if I am in need of medical attention in Italy, I have the option of seeking treatment at a public facility for free, in which case I would be subject to potentially long waiting periods (depending on the severity of the medical issue), or I can pay a private doctor for a consultation, whereby the waiting time would be significantly shorter.  Prices for private doctors, in my experience, range anywhere from 50 Euros to 150 Euros.  But what about emergency room visits?

Pronto Soccorso
Emergency Room at the Meyer Children's Hospital in Florence, Italy
Accettazione Triage
The Triage Department at the Meyer Children's Hospital, Florence

This month while in Florence, Italy, my 7-month-old daughter, Sofia, developed a high fever of about 103 degrees F.  Concerned, my wife and I brought her to the emergency room at the renowned children’s hospital called Meyer Azienda Ospedaliero Universitaria.  Upon arriving, Sofia was triaged and classified as “codice verde” (code green).  There are three classification codes for emergency patients at the Meyer Hospital: codice verde (code green), codice giallo (code yellow), and codice rosso (code red).  There is little to no wait for code red patients, but since Sofia was classified as code green, the entire emergency room visit lasted 4-hours from the time we entered to the time we departed.

Emergency Room
The emergency room where Sofia was evaluated
Emergency Department
Ambulance Entrance at the Meyer Children's Hospital, Florence

During our 4-hour visit (most of which was spent in a crowded waiting room with parents and children), Sofia was seen by a doctor and nurse, given a standard check-up and evaluation, a urine test was performed, and a prescription was written.  Prognosis – mal di gola (sore throat), with nothing to worry about.  In addition to that comforting news, the paper that the nurse provided to us at the conclusion of the visit indicated a charge of € 0.00.  Our entire emergency room visit was free, even though we reported Sofia as being born in the United States.  Additionally, the cost of the prescribed medicine at the pharmacy cost approximately $3.00.


I am not an expert on healthcare in Italy, but I can tell you that when I travel to Italy, even with my minor children, I feel comfortable in knowing that healthcare is available to us for free, and in large cities like Florence, Italy, excellent healthcare is all within reach.  For this reason, I have never purchased travel medical insurance when traveling to Italy.

But are there any benefits to purchasing travel medical insurance?  In preparation for this post, I reviewed a policy that I found online and discovered that not only does it have a multitude of reasons why coverage will not apply, but it lists at least 50 exclusions.  While these limitations are not unusual for insurance policies, it is important for prospective purchasers to acknowledge that using the insurance coverage is not always as easy as one would think, and it is always best to speak with an insurance agent to answer your questions prior to purchasing any travel medical insurance.

Nevertheless, there are some situations that travelers can find themselves where coverage would be helpful, but I think those are in extreme and rare cases.  For example, certain types of travel medical insurance will cover the cost of airfare for a relative to visit you in Italy, if you are confined to a hospital intensive care unit following certain life-threatening illnesses.  In the event of death, some policies will pay for your mortal remains to be shipped back to your home country, or even buried in Italy.  Some policies will pay for emergency air transportation to a hospital.  If travelers want coverage for these rare circumstances, then perhaps travel medical insurance will be helpful; however, for ordinary and common medical issues that may arise on a trip to Italy, I don’t think travelers should be concerned.

Emergency Room
The entrance of the emergency department at the Meyer Children's Hospital, Florence

What are some of your thoughts about traveling to Italy with travel medical insurance?  Is it necessary?  A waste?  Has it every helped any of you?  Have any of you had experiences with Italian healthcare, and if so, what was the severity of the issue and the medical cost?