Peace Corps Increases Medical Clearance Cost Reimbursements, But Is It Enough?
Paying for medical visits, testing, travel, and medication can be costly. But having to pay for those all at once is a known hurdle for many Peace Corps applicants. For those without insurance or ample financial means, those medical clearance costs stop the applicant from applying for Peace Corps service. Will the increase in medical clearance cost reimbursements be enough for applicants with limited financial means or no health insurance?
Once upon a time, you must complete medical clearance before being invited to serve in the Peace Corps. And you had to find a way to pay for most or all of those costs. You get a modest amount reimbursed but you are responsible for the upfront costs.
For decades, Peace Corps applicants and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) asked Peace Corps to cover all medical clearance costs. Peace Corps service cannot be limited only to those who can afford the high cost of medical care. These costs disproportionately impacts marginalized and ethnic communities which greatly limits the diversity of Peace Corps Volunteers.
Peace Corps Application Process Order Changed
But a few years ago, the rules slightly changed. Once upon a time, you must pass the initial screening and the medical clearance process before Peace Corps extends an invitation to serve. But now, Peace Corp invites the applicant to serve first before the applicants begins the medical clearance process. This change is significant to separate the applicants’ qualifications to serve from any medical situation that precludes them from serving.
However, applicants still pays for the medical clearance costs upfront if it is not covered by insurance or if they do not have insurance. And, applications only have a certain amount of time to get medical clearance or lose that invitation.
Make Sure You Understand the Peace Corps Medical Clearance Expectations
What does Peace Corps expect from you to medically clear you to serve? Why are some items required for you but not for your friend who is also applying? Which items have criteria to determine if they are required or exempt?
The number of items required for medical clearance can vary based on your medical history and host country requirements. And, which items Peace Corps cover can also vary if you are applying to be a Response Volunteer. Which medical clearance items have conditions on which are required? Is every item on your list eligible for reimbursements?
You may receive some medical items addressed during staging or after you arrive in country. Do not assume. Read everything carefully and ask questions.
What’s the Fine Print?
In Dec 2020, Peace Corps announced that Peace Corps will increase (some of) the medical clearance cost reimbursements. In May 2022, Peace Corps issued a statement that “All eligible expenses incurred during the Peace Corps’ medical clearance process are now fully reimbursable!”. Peace Corps carefully packed a lot of information (and restrictions) into that sentence. We worked on dissecting it.
Peace Corps Only Reimburses “Eligible” Costs
Peace Corps only reimburses costs that it deems to be “eligible“. What does that mean? Unfortunately, you might still incur costs that Peace Corps will not reimburse. And what one applicant needs for medical clearance may be different than another. Ask for clarification before incurring each cost.
What Does “Fully Reimbursable” Mean?
We suggest everyone ask Peace Corps for that definition. Is 100% of the cost covered regardless of the amount? Or, are there maximum caps on the amount reimbursed? Are there any limits on the expenses for follow-up visits or procedures? Is there a difference in reimbursement amounts based on gender or age?
Some applicants may live in areas with limited medical services. Can they be reimbursed for the cost of travel for the required medical clearance items? Some medical providers still provide hurdles to your medical records including charging for them. Does Peace Corps reimburse the cost of getting your medical records?
Do Not Start Accruing Any Expenses Early
Many Peace Corps applicants are eager to move the process along. After all, you are ready to serve. You do not want to miss the timeline to get everything checked off. But Peace Corps only consider expenses accrued DURING the medical clearance process. Timing is everything here.
Do NOT start accruing any medical (or dental) costs until you formally begin your medical clearance process. It is not about whether those items are on your medical clearance list. It is about whether or not you formally started the medical clearance process.
Peace Corps Must Request Certain Medical Clearance Items
Certain evaluations and procedures are only reimbursable if Peace Corps requests them. Make sure you have those requests in written form. Don’t expect someone to look for a record of a phone call. Save the emails. Download any online exchanges.
Don’t try to be thorough to save time at the doctor’s office or pharmacy. Some medical providers offer you everything in their cabinet. But does Peace Corps require it for your medical clearance list? Don’t rely on another applicant’s experience and requirements. Your requirements may be different.
An Increase in Medical Clearance Cost Reimbursements Is Not Enough
RPCV Health Crusade has consistently and continuously heard from applicants and RPCVs about the high cost of medical clearance. Some RPCVs are also surprised by the cost of medical care or lack of Peace Corps assistance after service.
When will Peace Corps cover the full cost of medical clearance AND offers medical care for all RPCVs after service? These are barriers to service or become burdens after service.
Peace Corps service should not just be for people with financial means and/or access to full coverage health insurance. We are glad that Peace Corps finally increased its reimbursement amounts. But we see this as only a first step and not the final one.
Peace Corps must cover the full cost of medical clearance – medical and dental visits, medications, vaccinations, procedures, imaging, and more. The reimbursement amounts must consider the cash price that applicants without health insurance have to pay. Peace Corps need to consider the cost of travel for medical clearance items as well as the cost of medical records. And if Peace Corps requires the applicant/invitee to bring any quantity of physician-prescribed medication to training, then Peace Corps needs to cover that cost.
Even though Peace Corps increased reimbursements, the applicants still has to absorb the initial cost. Ideally, Peace Corps issue vouchers or pay the provider directly so that the applicant does not incur any initial expense.
If Peace Corps does not fully remove the financial barriers to service, then Peace Corps Volunteers continue to be a homogenized group from primarily financially-comfortable backgrounds. HCNs benefit from interactions with a diversity of volunteers from the USA. PCVs from diverse backgrounds and/or have economic challenges offer a unique perspective to their Peace Corps service. And that service experience opens doors to post-service eligibility and other benefits.
RPCV Health Crusade’s Resource Library Helps with Medical Clearance Cost
Various Peace Corps applicants reached out to RPCV Health Crusade for help with the medical clearance process and combating the high costs. While we cannot help with navigating the medical clearance process, RPCV Health Crusade began collecting a list of free or heavily-discounted options to reduce the cost of medical clearance. That list quickly grew by leaps and bounds into the RPCV-HC Resource Library.
The RPCV-HC Resource Library contains specific Peace Corps medical-related information. It also includes support-related options from other RPCVs groups. But it also contains a large section of free and discounted medical information and options across the country (and a few in Canada). These options could help applicants but also RPCVs with health needs but limited financial resources.
And, you do not need to be a part of the Peace Corps community to view or take advantage of our RPCV-HC Resource Library. In fact, we intentionally made it publicly available so that anyone can benefit from our efforts. RPCVs are well-known for looking out for the entire community. We appreciate all the suggestions and ideas shared by the RPCV community. Let’s keep that going!
As usual, we strongly suggest that you conduct your own research to confirm the information before relying on it. Online information changes quickly from one minute to the next. Also, we are just a small group of RPCVs and do not have the bandwidth to confirm every suggestion. Why not lend a hand to help make a difference and help us do even more? Until there is free universal healthcare for all, let’s share our tips to benefit the health of everyone.
If you have a suggestion to add or improve the RPCV-HC Resource Library, let us know.