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The Mature Traveler

Insurance for a Medical Emergency Abroad

September 13, 1987|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 25-year-veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks.

In the flurry of preparations for a trip--looking forward to a pleasant adventure, making sure your home is buckled up during your absence--mature travelers might overlook an important detail when traveling, as unpleasant as it might be to face.

Take a minute to reflect on what you would do if you were in an accident in Europe and the doctors did not speak English; or you lost or ran out of your needed medication in a foreign country. What if you or your spouse became seriously ill in a place with no adequate medical facilities?

The answers to such dilemmas would be just a phone call away if before your trip you were wise enough to sign up for emergency medical assistance, a growing industry in the United States.

Among the growing number of companies offering this service, International SOS, the oldest and largest emergency medical assistance company in the United States, provides services to more than 1,000 international corporations and thousands of travelers, including, of course, mature travelers.

Common Sense Tips

Richard Riley, vice president, offers the following common sense tips to those heading for foreign shores:

--Check with your insurance company to make sure that your health insurance covers you overseas (Medicare does not). Ask if coverage includes emergency medical evacuation and whether there are any exclusions on that coverage. Evacuations can cost upward of $20,000.

--Avoid hospitals in Third World countries if you possibly can. They are often simply a place to sleep, with no food and little staff. If you can, recuperate in your hotel room.

--Be sure to take duplicates of all important medications and prescriptions for them. Be aware when filling a prescription overseas that a drug will probably be called by a different name. Have your doctor write a prescription using the generic name.

--Be aware that a U.S. embassy cannot give you money and can provide little more than advice and comfort.

Riley particularly advises mature travelers, those with irregular medical histories and people visiting countries where the medical conditions are antiquated to make sure they're covered for emergencies that might require an evacuation for proper medical treatment.

Check Fine Print

"Almost all personal and group health insurance coverage, except for Medicare, will protect you overseas," says Riley, so buying health insurance is often redundant. But it's important that you check with your insurance agent before you leave. Otherwise, in the event of an emergency, you may pay tens of thousands of dollars that will not be reimbursed.

He also points out that many travel insurance packages offer evacuation benefits but often so many exclusions have been added that in fact you may not be covered. Common exclusions include age, pre-existing medical conditions, acts of war, hijacking, natural causes such as earthquakes and unlawful acts such as suicide or taking drugs. Treatment in Eastern European countries is also a common exclusion.

"Be sure to check the fine print," advises Riley.

Individual travelers can benefit from the same services that SOS provides to hundreds of international corporations, among them 200 of the Fortune 500. For a membership fee, these are some of the benefits individuals are offered:

--Emergency evacuation when adequate medical facilities are unavailable locally.

--Medically supervised repatriation when the treating physician determines that it is medically advisable to take the patient closer to home.

--Twenty-four-hour telephone access to English-speaking doctors and referral to English-speaking doctors in the area.

--Authorization of payment of medical fees, using internationally accepted charge cards where accepted for use.

--Repatriation of mortal remains in the event of a member's death while traveling more than 100 miles from home.

--Transportation to join a disabled member who is traveling alone and who has been hospitalized for more than seven days.

Following is basic information for some of the major travel-assistance companies, all of which have toll-free phone numbers:

International SOS, 1 Neshaminy Interplex, Trevose, Pa. 19047, phone (800) 523-8930. Offers assistance anywhere 100 miles or more from home. Offers $1,000 accident and sickness benefit, $25 deductible, to cover the deductible cost that member's major medical insurance requires, because Riley says 99% of travelers have medical insurance. The main service is critical care patient monitoring and evacuation, as well as referrals. The cost is a $195 annual membership fee and $15 for a one- to seven-day trip, plus $2 for each additional day or $45 a month.

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