Medical emergencies can happen anywhere. Just tripping on a few picturesque cobblestones can lead to a broken ankle. How does an injured or sick traveler find first-rate care, and fast? Medical evacuation services offer the best guarantee of excellent treatment by providing emergency airlifts to top local hospitals—or even one’s home. Many of them also offer insurance plans to cover the associated costs.
The most important thing to check is exactly how each service is set up for emergencies in a destination country. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association’s Web site (ustia.org) is a good resource, and price quotes from different carriers are available at sites such as Squaremouth (squaremouth.com) and Insure My Trip (insuremytrip.com). American Express Platinum and Centurion Cardmembers have access to the Premium Global Assist Hotline (715-343-7977), a service that can arrange and cover the costs of medical evacuations.
One caveat: Policies often stipulate that in the case of evacuation, a nurse from the United States must accompany the patient. “It’s ridiculous,” says Guy Rubin, managing partner of Imperial Tours. “A client of ours had a heart attack in Shanghai. It took two days to find an American nurse, another two days to get the nurse a visa to enter China, and then another day for the flight. A week passed before anything happened. That’s like an ambulance stopping to have its engine serviced on the way from a crash scene to the hospital.”
The Fine Print
Questions to ask when choosing a medical evacuation policy
- Is there a monetary cap on transport costs?
- Is there a “medical necessity” clause?
- Will payment for medical services be advanced or guaranteed to the provider?
- Are there any age restrictions?
- Are pre-existing conditions covered?
- Is a rider required for coverage of adventure sports such as mountain climbing, surfing, and white-water rafting?
- How many people does a family plan cover?
- Would I be sent to the nearest “appropriate” medical facility (as determined by the company) or to the facility of my choice, no matter where it is?
- Does the plan cover one-way airfare home for any dependent children traveling with me?
- Does the plan cover round-trip airfare for a person of my choice to join me?
- Do you offer foreign-language interpretation, at least by phone?
- Can I get help with a prescription if I left my medication at home?
- Are there exclusion clauses for pregnancy or childbirth, mental or nervous health disorders, use of alcohol or drugs, acts of war or civil disorder, epidemics, or expected or reasonably foreseeable problems?