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Emergency Travel Insurance Coverage

Colin GrubbFeb 7, 2017


First and foremost, if you are traveling outside the United States the US government strongly recommends you have a conversation with your health insurance provider before you go.  Ask specifically if your insurance will cover you in the particular country you are visiting.  And if they do, find out exactly how that coverage works.

Don’t leave this to memory or chance. While many plans work in Canada, they will not cover you in Europe, South America, or beyond.

Becoming ill or having some kind of accident or medical emergency abroad is more likely than you think. According to some sources, half of all travelers will experience some kind of sickness or accident when in a foreign country. With this in mind, if you discover your insurance will not work on your trip, it’s a great idea to purchase travel insurance.

In the previous installment we covered the trip cancellation feature of travel insurance policies. We now tackle probably the most important feature: emergency medical insurance and medical evacuation and repatriation.

** Emergency medical evacuation as a component of a travel insurance policy differs from standalone medical air transport. A specific medical air transport membership generally offers more control and flexibility as to where you can go and which doctors you can see.

Jordan and his friends Ben and Michael had just graduated from college. Before entering the 9 to 5 grind they decided to do something adventurous and booked an adventure holiday in South America which included zip lining, bungee jumping, cave exploring, and a river cruise deep into the Amazon.

About 2 days downriver from the closest town Jordan began getting a terrible headache and joint pain. Their guide, who had seen these symptoms many times before, knew for sure it was dengue fever, a mosquito-born disease common in the tropics. He explained although it would certainly be painful, the condition was normally not fatal, but still recommended they turn the boat around so Jordan could get medical attention.

By the next day Jordan had worsened. He had extreme abdominal pain and continuous vomiting. The guide recognized this was a sign they were not dealing with everyday dengue, but it’s most severe form: dengue haemorrhagic fever, a condition that could absolutely be fatal.

Considering the nature of their trip, the boys’ parents had taken out comprehensive travel insurance policies on them before their departure. They had also forces them to bring a satellite phone with strict instructions to call the insurance provider’s 24/7 hotline if anything went wrong.

The travel insurance representative (in Spanish) arranged for immediate medical airlift to a partner facility that was properly staffed with the best medical experts in the vicinity who accustomed to treating the disease.

Incredibly, when they arrived the clinic required the cost of treatment up front before they would proceed. The insurance company negotiated with the correct department and paid the full bill, which was a few thousand dollars the boys didn’t have on them.

As Jordan was stabilizing, the team at the insurance provider kept in touch with his family, updating them frequently on his condition.

Jordan’s system had been hit so hard by dengue; the doctor’s recommended he not continue his vacation. Finally the travel insurance company booked Jordan’s tickets and covered the commercial flight home.

Jordan’s family doesn’t ever like to think what the boys could have possibly done on that boat if they didn’t have this coverage.

All of the above amenities are common features of the emergency medical component to travel insurance policies. But there are reasons coverage can be denied. It’s important to keep in mind:

  • Almost all travel insurance plans will not cover a pre-existing condition. Some prohibit them outright, some require you provide documentation the condition has been under control for a certain time. However, there are plans that allow you to purchase a waiver at additional cost.
  • If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol your claim can be denied as well. Most plans differentiate whether or not the accident or illness was caused by drugs or alcohol or would have happened regardless. But all plans have different guidelines in this respect, so it is important you compare policies for how strict they are if you intend to partake on your vacation.
  • Travel insurance companies can have all kinds of restrictions considering where and how you get injured. For example, some might not cover what they deem “extreme” activities or sports, injuries sustained over a certain altitude, or injuries sustained if you knowingly and intentionally entered a dangerous area of the world such as a war zone or locality prone to terrorism or abductions. As recommended above, as for a copy of the contract and scrutinize it before purchase.

If you are planning on booking that vacation and want the peace of mind that someone has your back in case disaster strikes, check out our advertising partner Allianz Travel Insurance. Allianz is the world’s largest travel insurance provider and offers a variety of plans featuring all the medical coverage contained in this story through its easy-to-use website.