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Understanding Travel Health Insurance
-- Don't Leave Home Without It!

Evelyn Hannon

Most of us have heard horror stories about inadequately insured travellers who go off on holiday feeling perfectly well and then an unfortunate accident puts them in hospital. These unlucky folks find themselves very far from home without personal support systems in place and they're left with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. Not fun!

Ten tips, bits of advice and sobering
thoughts to think about.....

1. Check any health policies you already have very, very carefully. Find out if your coverage extends to emergency medical services outside the country, what that coverage entails and whether that coverage is adequate if something goes terribly wrong on your holiday. Then begin shopping for any extra protection you might need.

walking wounded
2. Don't take chances. Understand, that whether you are out of the country for two hours or two months, accidents are never planned and ill health can come on very suddenly . You could find yourself too sick to travel home for medical treatment and we all know how expensive even a short hospital stay can be. Be aware that you can't just buy your insurance when you start to feel badly. Policies must always be paid in full prior to your departure.

3. Do your research . Allow the same time and consideration for picking your policy as you would to deciding on a destination, shopping for your airline ticket or buying a backpack that's just right for you. The wrong backpack can mean a sore back. Choosing the wrong insurance could mean thousands and thousands of dollars in unnecessary debt!

4. Personalize your policy. Think carefully about the kind of coverage you need. Are you pregnant? Is this a skiing holiday? Are you travelling with children? Are you a diabetic? All of these factors will play an important role in your choice of policies and they must be considered very carefully. For example, did you know that many policies don't automatically cover pregnancy-related conditions or nursery care for premature infants?

5. Every insurance company should provide an agreement booklet that outlines in detail what type of coverage they offer in each of their policies. Ask for a copy of this contract before you commit yourself. This is a perfect way to compare benefits.

6. Remember, you get what you pay for! Never buy your policy based solely on the amount of the premium. If one insurance company is charging far less for premiums than another, be wary. This is the time to ask a lot of hard questions because chances are the coverage will be far less, too.

7. Never lie! Emergency health insurers have very stringent rules in regard to pre-existing medical conditions. Discuss these carefully with your insurance company. It's absolute folly to go off without advising them of your medical problems because, in the long run, you will probably lose your coverage and no payments will be made.

8. Ask about the company's emergency procedures. What happens if you become injured and need medical assistance immediately? Is their Assistance Centre staffed 24 hours a day? How quickly and effectively will their medical staff react to your particular needs? If their 800 emergency number doesn't operate from where you are, will they accept collect calls? Will the person at the other end of the line speak English?

9. Find out about the non-medical services your policy provides. If you are travelling with a child and you're the one who's hospitalized, will there be provisions for the interim care of the child? Will they help if your passport or airline tickets are lost? You tend not to think about these things as you're setting off on holiday but they become so important when you actually find yourself in trouble.

10. Finally, we suggest that you do your networking with other travellin' women. Sound out your pals about companies they've dealt with and how well their claims were settled. Ask them to assess both the medical services and the non-medical services. You'll be surprised at the helpful bits and pieces of information you can pick up along the way.

Once proper insurance coverage is in place you can set off on your journey with wonderful peace of mind. Bon Voyage!

Health care around the world
isn't always perfect ...

Hong Kong is reputed to have the world's most expensive medical care.

In developing countries, needles, syringes and IV administration materials may be re-used without adequate sterilization. Consider bringing a personal medical kit with a supply of disposable products.

Many hospitals in China derive a substantial amount of their revenue through drugs prescribed by staff physicians and sold at on-site hospital pharmacies. Therefore not only might doctors prescribe more drugs than you need but you will possibly be overcharged for your drugs as well.

In Mexico, some medical providers work in conjunction with air ambulances to pressure patients into paying for expensive (and sometimes medically unnecessary) emergency evacuations. It is important to have an assistance company that can provide appropriate medical referrals and assist you in making safe and cost effective evacuation arrangements when required.

In Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, routine first aid supplies and feminine hygiene products are often hard to find and expensive where available.

The ambulance drivers in China are not required to have any medical or first aid training .

(Source: Laura Hilton, Director of Provider Relations at MEDEX)

Check your policy carefully...

bungee jumper

Be aware! If you plan on taking part in any sports that are considered hazardous, you might not be covered by your insurance policy. Dangerous activities include:

  • parachuting,
  • para-sailing
  • hang gliding
  • bungee jumping
  • mountaineering
  • cave exploring and
  • SCUBA diving (if you don't hold a basic SCUBA designation from a certified licensing body).

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