THE BLOG

Do You Have the Medical Evacuation Coverage You Think You Have?

03/18/2015 02:44 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015

A recent trip to the Amazon had me climbing a tree to escape wild boars. I was lucky the harrowing experience resulted in no injuries. There was the strong possibility that I could have been severely harmed if not killed. Sitting in the tree, I began to wonder about my medical evacuation coverage? This was clearly not the time nor could I purchase it from a tree even if I could get a signal.

Finding the plan that fits your needs and lifestyle, understanding the coverage and the defined terms and who is making the decisions is critical. It is a small investment in one's health and security. These are the questions I should have asked prior to my trip.

Does your company provide flight evacuation insurance for personal trips?
Dr. Quigley, Regional Medical Director for International SOS, recommends inquiring if the policy differentiates between business and leisure trips. That safari squeezed in on a work trip to Cape Town may not be covered. Confirm the coverage in writing.

Does your credit card company provide protection?
The full fare may need to be purchased on the card or with their company's frequent flier points. Check the fine print closely. The requirements vary by state and card.

According to Kimberly Litt, American Express Company's Manager of Public Affairs, Platinum and Centurion membership includes medical evacuation as a member and not a purchase benefit for the card holder and their family members traveling on the SAME itinerary. Global Assist must be aware, involved and uses a third party provider to determine medical necessity for the coverage to apply. There are no caps on the number of transports or costs.

What type of evacuation coverage should you purchase?
Deciding which plan to purchase depends on how frequently you travel? Do you have advance notice? What is the distance you travel from your home? Is there a cap on the number of trips or the expense? Will you be taken to the closest hospital or returned to your home town? Are you visiting a city or a remote area? Are interim stops for stabilization covered? Is there a maximum distance? Who makes the medical determination? Will your traveling companion be transported? What is the company's reputation? How are the key trigger terms defined? The plans vary dramatically.

Travel Guard offers a variety of packages that also include medical insurance and lost baggage protection. Medicare does not provide coverage outside the United States. Check your credit card and homeowners policies to see if these services are duplicative. Purchasing unnecessary coverage is costly. The plan is not available annually.

The Medivac plan has a limit of $50,000 but is secondary to your primary medical insurance coverage. There is only one evacuation per trip, no interim stops to a hospital but no limit on distance. The cost is based on the person's age and the number of days traveling. A 51 year old traveling for 14 days would cost $38. The Gold plan permits multiple evacuations with a maximum of $500,000. Air lifts add up quickly. The cost is $32.

An annual plan may be preferable for people who travel frequently and at the last minute. MedjetAssist offers an annual plan as well as short term coverage. All evacuations, however, must be from a hospital defined as a free standing medical facility that provides 24/7 care and can house a patient. Remote evacuations from a mountain side are not available.

Their physicians obtain a medical report to determine if the patient is stable and the type of care required for transfer. Transport is to your home hospital of choice with no stops along the way unless you need it or the distance is not medically advisable. There are a maximum of 2 evacuations per year with no expense cap and the traveler must be more than a 150+ miles from home. The individual premium is $260/year.

International SOS is predominantly a corporate service provider. Travelers are educated and required to develop an emergency plan in advance. The coverage and price is purchased on an individual trip basis with no annual plan available.

Medical transport is to the nearest medical center. The traveler pays if they want to be repatriated home. The patient's care is managed from 27 decentralized assistance centers.

Global Rescue deploys their own personnel who work with John Hopkins Medical Center. Evacuation is based on hospitalization versus medical necessity. The patient is retrieved from the point of injury including a mountain. The traveler needs to be more than a 160 miles from home.

The annual medical plan is $329 for an individual or a $119/week. Transport is to the hospital of choice in the home country with a limit of 2 evacuations per membership period. Each trip counts as one transport with no limit on the number of interim segments but a ceiling of $500,000.

Ripcord is a recent addition to the market. The program has a third alternative trigger of an emerging medical condition that will result in significant, permanent injury or death in addition to hospital admission or if hospitalization is required. The annual plan costs $312 with a $500,000 cap. Short term is available.

Whichever company you choose, the company's contact information should be communicated to your travel company and on you at all times. Many of the companies require their involvement from the beginning and will not reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses. Having a satellite phone is recommended when traveling to remote areas.

I thankfully did have the protection I thought I did, but was thrilled that I didn't need to invoke the coverage. The key is knowing and planning ahead rather than wondering in a tree.