Got insurance?: a bite will hurt but the evacuation cost is deadly.
Q: I plan to sail around the world over the next three years. Can you recommend a good international insurance policy that covers emergency medical evacuations?
Mark Downing, Portland, Oregon
A: It'd be bad enough to be sprawled on a dingy cot in some fecund Southeast Asian clinic waiting for a doctor to find a simple clean swab to dress that shark wound, but you'd probably die from shock if you were evacuated and got slapped with that bill, too. Evacuations can cost around $80,000 in dire cases, as little as $10,000 if you're lucky. You're right to consider insurance.
MEDEX, a Baltimore-based company, offers several international plans to meet your needs, ranging from SAFE Trip, a policy that covers evacuation costs only, to TravMed International, which covers evacuations costs as well as medical expenses. Expect to pay anywhere between $75 and $150 a month, depending on the deductible and where you plan to go. Some of their plans have a six-month minimum purchase while others are sold by the week. (www.medexassist.com ; 410-453-6300)
Here's the catch, though: medical evacuation insurance plans often turn stale when it comes to injury resulting from "extreme" sports. For the folks at MEDEX, that means hot air balloon rides, rock climbing, diving, caving, hang gliding, and mountain biking, among other activities, are not covered. Break your back while testing that Fijian singletrack and the only thing a call to Baltimore will get you is sympathy. But should your appendix flare up while sailing 600 miles off the coast of Tonga, MEDEX can get you out as long as you can make a phone call. Also, be sure to check the fine print on what happens to your policy should you return stateside in the middle of you trip, say, for the holidays. MEDEX allows you 30 days in country before the policy goes void, but other companies might not be lenient.
If you're a diver, a better option would be to join the Divers Alert Network (www.diversalertnetwork.org/insurance; 800-446-2671). The group offers several plans to cover evacuation expenses from scuba accidents as well as non-diving-related injuries that happen 50 miles or more away from home. Plans range from $54 to $99 a year with a $250 deductible, and come with membership benefits, such as rental car discounts and monthly newsletters.
Of course the benefits to any policy hinge entirely upon your ability to contact the insurance company. Fortunately both MEDEX and DAN have strings of international support numbers to make sure your last words aren't spent explaining, in Khmer, just how great your policy really is.