Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Q. My father had to be medically evacuated from Mexico. It ended up costing $25,000. Doesn't medical insurance cover this sort of thing?

A. While standard health insurance does not cover emergency medical evacuation, which usually involves the urgent transfer of an injured or sick person, who cannot be moved safely using commercial transport, often from a less advanced medical facility far from home to another, better-equipped hospital nearer to home. You need to buy such coverage separately from a company that specializes solely in emergency evacuation or from a travel insurance vendor.

When buying a policy or membership, ask these questions:

Will you be transferred to the nearest "appropriate" hospital as determined by the evacuation agency or insurer, or, rather, to a hospital of your choosing, such as one closer to home where your personal physician and family members can assist in your care? Who decides if you will be evacuated? A doctor appointed by the insurer or agency, or do you (or your appointed representative) get to choose? Are there pre-existing condition clauses? Is there an upper limit to the cost of the evacuation (since these trips can sometimes exceed $100,000)? What is the upper age limit for coverage?

Arguably the most comprehensive medical evacuation assistance is by two Birmingham AL-based membership programs that specialize in this kind of service: Medjet Assist, and AirMed. As long as you're 150 miles or more from home, once you're medically stabilized either will fly you to whatever hospital you or your family request.

MedJet charges $205 per year for a single membership for individuals up to 75 years of age or $325 for a family of up to two adults and five minor children. A "Diamond Plan" for travelers aged 75-85 costs $365 per year. Coverage for individual trips is also offered. AirMed charges $250 per year for single travelers up to age 75 or $350 for a family of seven. One distinction between the two firms is that AirMed owns and operates its fleet of three custom-designed aircraft whereas MedJet charters aircraft from air ambulance firms as needed.

Both companies are careful to state that they do not provide "insurance": rather, they are membership programs, in much the same way that the AAA offers services for its members.

TravelGuard, however, is an insurer. This travel insurance specialist introduced a medevac policy in April that includes $25,000 in insurance for medical expenses as well as medical evacuation coverage with no cost limit. Rates for travelers under 75 years of age range from $69 for a trip of up to ten days in duration to $185 per year for an annual plan ($119/$370 respectively for those aged 75-85).

Q. My wife and I bought a package tour to France. On the way to the airport, there was a huge accident on the interstate leading to the airport (we have documentation about this from the state police). We managed to arrive just about 60 minutes before our Air France flight was to depart, but the airline refused to board us. Even though there were seats on the next flight out, there were none in our "fare class" (we had purchased, unbeknown to us, a "bulk" or promotional fare). So the indifferent agent at the counter said we'd have to forfeit those tickets and buy a full fare "walk up" ticket. First he said it would cost $2000 each round-trip but then changed his mind and wanted $5000. Needless to say, we didn't buy them, but we ended up forfeiting thousands of dollars in hotel and other direct and indirect costs. What should we have done differently if anything, and what are our rights going forward? We've gotten nowhere calling or writing to Air France. Had we bought travel insurance, would we have been covered in this scenario?

A. I'm quite shocked by this whole chain of events. First of all, the most expensive last minute fares to Paris are indeed around $2000. The higher amount you were quoted sounds like a business class ticket. So far, despite repeated attempts, I've gotten nowhere trying to contact Air France's public relations agency, so at least they're consistent. But I can say this: first, obviously, if you had only left for the airport a half hour earlier you would have been sitting pretty (it seems like a burden arriving for an international flight three hours ahead of time, but airlines recommend this for a reason); and second, next time you buy an airfare, ask if it's a bulk fare. I've heard other stories of consumers buying these fares and running into trouble. For example, if your flight is cancelled or delayed, the airline may not put you on a competitor's next flight out as they normally would with a "published" fare; you might have to wait until there's room on the original airline's next flight, whenever that might be). And concerning Air France, I would hope that common sense would have prevailed, especially since you could document the accident. A final note: travel insurance might have been a good idea. Not all policies from all travel insurers would have covered you sufficiently in this situation, but from my reading of TravelGuard's Cruise, Tour and Travel policy (their most expensive and comprehensive), you would have been protected in this scenario. Assuming that your vacation cost $5,000, the premium for such a policy would have been approximately $375 per person.

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