Personal Finance

How Emergency Medical Transportation In Travel Insurance Works

Travel insurance should be one of the first things you put on your vacation to-do list. But not all travel insurance policies are created equal. Most policies offer reimbursement for travel cancellation, trip delay, lost luggage, travel medical expenses and emergency transport services, but coverage depends on the scope of the policy.

One coverage to pay attention to is emergency medical transport. It’s a coverage type that becomes life-saving once you need it.

What is Emergency Transport Coverage?

Paying for the peace of mind of having the right travel insurance coverage should you need to evacuate for medical attention is a small cost.

“If, while traveling, you are injured or fall seriously ill—and the local medical facilities are not able to adequately care for you—you might require a medical evacuation,” says Scott Adamski, head of U.S. field sales for AIG Travel.

Here’s a breakdown of what may be covered by emergency medical evacuation insurance:

  • Transport to the nearest hospital or medical facility capable of providing treatment
    If you’re traveling alone, payment for someone to come to your bedside if you’ll be hospitalized for a certain period of time, such as more than seven days
  • Payment for dependent children under age 18 who are traveling with you to return home, with an attendant if needed, if you’ll be hospitalized for more than seven days
  • Payment to get you back home if medically necessary
  • Repatriation of your remains if you pass away

Emergency medical transportation coverage “could include anything ranging from your significant other needing to act as a non-medical escort to get you back home (or to another—potentially closer—destination, with suitable treatment facilities), to a nurse, paramedic or physician escort on a commercial flight, to a need for oxygen, to a lay-flat seat, to an actual air ambulance with stretcher or other similar amenities,” says Adamski.

He says such arrangements are remarkably expensive, ranging from $20,000 and easily into the six figures.

Medical evacuation coverage could cover these costs (upfront, in many cases), and could also activate an entire medical team dedicated to consulting with the local medical providers, working with you or your family to determine what’s in your best interest as a patient, and making all the necessary arrangements to get you where you need to be, Adamski says.

The cost of this coverage will be dependent on your age, cost of trip, trip location, trip duration and other factors.

Getting Enough Emergency Medical Transport Coverage

Although medical evacuation coverage is included in most plans, coverage amounts will likely be lower in the more basic plans. Depending on your destination and planned activities, Adamski notes it might be important to consider a coverage enhancement such as Travel Guard’s “Medical Bundle,” which would allow you to double the coverage limits for medical expenses and evacuation.

“When budgeting for a trip, even the most thorough planners rarely consider a contingency that includes a five- or six-figure evacuation plan,” says Adamski.

Also, the expertise of the medical staff that may be helping to coordinate such an evacuation could (literally) be a life-saver: “They will have valuable insights—about traveling at elevation while ill or injured, for instance—that you, or even the local physicians that originally treated you, might not,” he adds,

Because emergency medical evacuation plans vary, it’s important to shop around and do your research.

“I highly recommend that anyone purchasing a travel medical insurance plan read their policy details and confirm that emergency evacuation is covered to the level they are comfortable with,” says Curt Carlson, senior vice president with Trawick International.

What Happens if You Don’t Have Medical Evacuation Coverage?

Your health insurance may not reimburse you for emergency medical evacuation expenses. In the rare case that your plan does, it may not pay upfront.

“If you’re staring at a $100,000 air ambulance bill, coverage under a travel insurance policy could be invaluable,” stresses Adamski. “Additionally, in some hospitals or clinics, globally, you may be required to provide a credit card or wire transfer—before being discharged—to pay the outstanding bill. A travel insurance policy with emergency medical transport could help on this front as well.”

Emergency Medical Transportation in the Time of COVID

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of emergency medical transport insurance is even more valuable.

Squaremouth, a travel insurance provider, currently recommends a minimum of $100,000 in emergency medical and medical evacuation coverage, to account for COVID-19 related medical care and evacuation expenses. Make sure the plan will cover COVID-related claims.

If you’re heading to a remote destination, where it may be more expensive or difficult to reach a medical facility, Squaremouth recommends $250,000 in medical evacuation coverage.

See our ratings of the best pandemic travel insurance plans.

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