Global Rescue team in Nepal.
When my father-in-law contracted Legionnaires Disease in Estonia a few years ago – the first case on record in that country -- he was rushed in a coma to a Soviet-era hospital. His wife called their travel insurance company – they had coverage for their extensive travels in Eastern Europe -- and asked them to fly him home to Chicago.
But the travel insurance company refused. They had made good to cover his transportation to the “nearest, best medical facility” – a distance of one mile from the hotel. That’s what the coverage allowed.
Yes, they could arrange a medical flight -- for about $70,000.
Whether you’re into adventure travel, a frequent business traveler or heading off on a summer vacation, accidents can happen, and sometimes they require medical care and assistance in getting home. But if you rely on your own health coverage or travel insurance to take care of you, you might be in for a big surprise. So to clear the air, here are five reasons you probably want to get medical evacuation coverage.
Patient being placed on a medical flight.
Medical evacuation coverage is not travel insurance.
Travel insurance protects travelers from financial loss resulting from cancelled trips, lost baggage, medical expenses and some medical evacuation expenses. The medical evacuation policies underwritten by travel insurers usually only pays for transport to the nearest appropriate medical facility, as in the case of my father-in-law. In other words, it’s the company’s decision where you will go.
True medical evacuation coverage is not insurance at all. It’s a service used to deliver a traveler to life-saving care that may not be available at the traveler’s location. It’s a membership, not a policy, and sold separately by a handful of companies like Global Rescue and MedjetAssist.
Buy it and you’re entitled to a medical evacuation, which means that you will be transported on a medical flight from a hospital that’s typically at least 100 miles or so away from your home to the hospital of your choice via a private air ambulance. At its most basic, it covers the cost of transporting you in an ambulance to the aircraft, the flight, and then on to another ambulance to the home hospital. Most good medical evacuation memberships also offer bedside deployment, case management and access to physicians who speak your language.
A Global Rescue team in Haiti.
No matter how good your health insurance is, you need medical evacuation coverage
Health insurance covers your medical bills. But if you break a leg while hiking in the Alps, have a heart attack in the Seychelles or encounter a debilitating illness in Southeast Asia, don’t count on your health insurance company to send a Lear Jet ambulance to pick you up and bring you home.
True medical evacuation coverage will cover the costs of transport should you need to be evacuated, and bring you back into your network of physicians, family and friends. What it will not cover is your medical expenses, such as a hospital stay, emergency room charges, doctor visits or medication. You’re responsible for those, either via your own medical insurance, travel medical insurance or your own pocket.
Your credit card won’t bail you out.
Your credit cards may offer some type of coverage, but none offer the kind of coverage available from a bona fide medical evacuation membership. Some may offer “nearest appropriate medical coverage,” but it’s up to you to arrange all the details yourself.
The best medical evacuation coverage offers medical advice physicians and access to specialists from a medical center if you need it. They can deploy personnel to your bedside. True medical evacuation coverage includes coordination of all details of your transport home.
A rescue in the Alps.
Even if you only travel in the United States, it’s still worth it.
A travel emergency in the US can be as life-threatening as any sustained abroad. For many of these companies, about half their rescues occur in the United States. We’re not taking rock climbers and heli-skiers here, though they can certainly get coverage. It’s car accidents and heart attacks that rank high on every company’s list.
It’s short money.
Maybe you’re a skier, a sailor or a hunter, or find yourself going places where “remote” defines the destination. A medical evacuation can result in catastrophic expenses incurred by you and your family. Medical evacuation and transport costs typically start at $25,000 and can exceed $250,000, depending upon where you are on the globe.
There’s little question that statistically better outcomes occur when patients are treated in care environments close to their support networks of family and friends. Without medical evacuation coverage domestically, patients are often forced to recover, sometimes for weeks or months, far from home.
That's exactly what happened to my father-in-law. Five weeks later, weakened and barely on the road to recovery, he returned home on a commercial flight after a long, scary and potentially deadly stay in Estonia.