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How to avoid a $100,000 airfare

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How to avoid a $100,000 airfare

By Carl Unger

Emergency medical evacuation is a product most people probably don't think they need. It sounds almost exotic, as if one's trip would need to be inherently dangerous to justify the purchase.

Well, think again. Emergency medical evacuation is far from necessary for every vacation, but travelers concerned about potential health problems or accidents, or who are traveling to relatively remote destinations or even just taking a cruise, may feel a bit more comfortable knowing they can easily and affordably get to a health care center in the case of a medical emergency. And speaking of affordability, consider that a domestic medical evacuation can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it can be over a $100,000 for international evacuations.

There are three main players in the emergency medical evaluation business: MedJet Assist, AirMed, and a newcomer, On Call International, which previously only sold coverage to travel insurance companies as a wholesaler. Each program offers annual subscriptions and individual trip coverage options, but the products differ somewhat, as you'll see in this chart.

Still, you can expect a similar set of benefits, not just medical evacuation, but also "family reunion" transportation (when a spouse or other relative needs to join or travel with an ill or injured family member), medical monitoring/consultation, and travel assistance services such as cash advances and legal consultation.

There are a few things to look for when purchasing this kind of service. First, you probably want a program that will bring you to your hospital of choice—anything else sort of defeats the purpose. You'll also want to make sure there are no restrictions on pre-existing conditions, lest you risk being denied transport when injury or illness befalls you. If there are any such restrictions, it should go without saying that you read them thoroughly. Keep in mind that none of the big three evacuation providers provide transport for conditions or hospitalizations already in effect when a customer enrolls in their program. So no breaking your leg before your trip and then signing up for an airlift!

Lastly, make sure you completely understand how the evacuation procedure works. Who decides when an evacuation is necessary? What circumstances qualifies a person for evacuation? Can customers literally be evacuated from anywhere on the globe to any medical facility they choose? One distinction between On Call and its competitors is that it provides coverage starting at 50 miles from home, versus 150 miles for the other two firms. That might not sound like a big difference, unless you're, say, a Manhattan resident who becomes suddenly ill late at night on Fire Island, a barrier island which is just 60 miles from the New York City.

Remember, also, that none of these companies' offerings should be confused with medical insurance, and in virtually all cases, your medical insurance provider does not cover emergency evacuation needs. The two will work in tandem to cover the transportation and medical expenses incurred should you end up in the hospital while traveling.

So again, while medical evacuation coverage is not something most people really need, some travelers may appreciate having in their back pocket.

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