Question submitted by Michael Gartenlaub, Long Island, N.Y.
Trip Doctor’s Answer
If you are at all concerned about out-of-country medical expenses, especially the cost of an emergency evacuation, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
I know many experienced travelers who still think such insurance is for worrywarts. But consider this: an evacuation after a heart attack in the Caribbean might cost $20,000, while getting home in an air ambulance from a more remote part of the world can run upwards of $100,000. “The ability to ‘get outta Dodge’ can save a life, and avoid the potential for huge debt,” says Pasadena, California–based travel health specialist Brian Terry, MD. (Tip: buy the policy as soon as possible after your first trip payment to be sure preexisting health conditions are covered.)
Travel insurance is also essential if you have invested more money in your trip than you’re willing to lose, according to Ed Perkins at smartertravel.com. Depending on the policy, you can be reimbursed if you cancel your trip or come home early because a family member or traveling companion becomes ill, the U.S. State Department deems a country unsafe, or you find yourself unexpectedly laid off. You can even sign up for a “cancel for any reason” policy, although such provisions are costly.
Three basic types of protection are offered. If you use a major credit card, you’re likely already covered for baggage loss, rental car damage, and accidental death or dismemberment. (The Platinum Card from T+L parent company American Express also covers medical evacuations under certain conditions.) Annual travel policies can cover emergency medical treatment—important if your regular coverage or Medigap policy doesn’t cover you outside the U.S. or your home state—and/or medical evacuation for a full year, handy if you’re a frequent traveler or have a second home. Package policies are purchased for each trip and can cover medical services, evacuation, trip interruption or cancellation, and financial default by your trip provider.
MedjetAssist and Air Ambulance Card are among the companies with membership-based medical evacuation services. Others—including Travel Guard, Travelex Insurance Services, and HTH Worldwide—sell annual medical policies.
Many tour operators and travel companies offer insurance; if you buy through them, be sure you’re getting a policy that comes from a reputable company such as Travel Guard or Travelex. Better yet, compare and choose your own policy via online sources such as quotewright.com, insuremytrip.com, and squaremouth.com.
By the Numbers
29%: The proportion of travelers since summer 2010 who had travel insurance when impacted by natural disasters or world events*
*U.S. Travel Insurance Association Survey, February 2012.