- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

You’re out somewhere in your hometown and you twist an ankle, fall and, in the process, break an arm or a leg or your hip — or worse. Or suddenly you show signs of some serious illness.

It’s a terrible experience, but at least you are close to home and you know whom to turn to for help — you can depend on a family doctor, and there’s probably a nearby hospital to care for your needs.

What if you were far from home, in one of the places I’ve been in recent years — the Andes of Peru, out-of-the-way islands of the South Pacific, remote areas of China or off the beaten path in Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Alaska and parts of Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia?

Many people who agonize over such small details as how many pairs of shoes to take on their vacation somehow forget to plan for something that is far more important: What would you do if you had a medical emergency during your trip and needed to be medically evacuated?

A medical evacuation could cost dearly. It’s very expensive — typically tens of thousands of dollars, frequently topping $50,000 and sometimes even $100,000. It could devastate your family’s finances. Yet very few people are covered against this possibility.

Most medical policies, HMO and PPO health plans provide no coverage, or extremely limited coverage, for these expenses. Medicare does not cover you outside the United States, nor do most Medicare supplements. If you believe one of your insurance policies or premium credit card supplements guarantees you medical evacuation, you would be wise to read the fine print very carefully.

Most likely every dollar, or nearly every dollar, of such an enormous expense would have to come out of your pocket.

Travelers who knowingly or unknowingly expose themselves to the risk of incurring an enormous bill for a medical evacuation make a big mistake. So do would-be travelers who decide not to visit their dream destinations because they have heard horror tales about people who have had to pay out large sums for a medical evacuation.

The smart thing to do is what highly experienced, knowledgeable world travelers do: Be certain that you have a travel protection plan that does what you want it to do.

Read the fine print very carefully and make sure you understand any disclaimers. Most plans have a cap, often set quite low, making you responsible for any expense in excess of the cap. Most simply guarantee getting you to the nearest medical center, a loophole scary to anyone who has seen what can pass for a medical facility in many parts of the world.

More likely, such coverage will be marketed shrewdly as guaranteeing to get you to the closest appropriate medical center or the closest adequate medical center. Problem is: What the policy issuers might consider appropriate or adequate might not fit your definition — in which case it is tough luck for you.

Some excellent travel protection plans are available at reasonable costs and deliver outstanding medical evacuation services and, in some cases, considerably more. Anyone who travels anywhere — even if only to places fairly close to home — should check into getting such protection. This is especially true for anyone with health concerns or anyone traveling to a destination that qualifies as adventure travel.

Go on the web, use a search engine such as Google and enter the phrase “medical evacuation,” and then do your own evaluation of the possibilities to determine which best matches what you want.

One of the possibilities you will come across is the one my wife and I purchased: MedjetAssist. It’s a perfect solution for our needs, giving us real peace of mind while we are traveling. No other plan gives all that MedjetAssist does; few others even come close.

The cost for an annual membership is $205 per person or $325 per family. Or you can sign up for a short-term plan: seven days for $75 per person ($140 per family), 14 days for $95 ($175 per family), or 21-days for $120 ($220 per family).

“Family” is defined as the primary member plus spouse plus up to five of their dependent children younger than 18 — younger than 23 if the child is a full-time student at an accredited school.

If you hold an annual membership, you also can cover any grandchild under age 18 traveling with you for an additional $75. Medjet also offers a reduced-rate membership for college students. Membership covers all costs of your medical evacuation — there is no cap.

Here’s how it works: If you are traveling anywhere more than 150 miles from home and suffer an injury or illness that requires in-patient hospitalization, you notify MedjetAssist — it’s reachable anytime — and your coverage guarantees, as many other plans do, to get you to the nearest adequate medical center. Unlike with many other plans, that’s just the beginning, not the end.

MedjetAssist then arranges for a phone consultation among the attending physician where you are hospitalized, your own personal physician and the company’s medical director, a physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. These three physicians evaluate the severity of your injury or illness, determine the need for any further hospitalization and determine if and when you can be moved. A translator is provided when necessary.

If the physicians determine that you require further in-patient hospitalization and it is medically safe for you to be moved to another medical facility, it’s then your choice. If you wish, you can stay where you are, or you can opt to have MedjetAssist transport you to any hospital you choose. Anywhere. You might pick your hometown hospital, you might select a specialty hospital, or you might pick some other one. Should you, say, decide on your hometown hospital and later it is determined that you need to be moved to a specialty hospital, MedjetAssist will do that, too, if you are an annual member.

Unlike most other plans, MedjetAssist does not require that it be a medical necessity for you to be moved from where you are. You decide, not someone else — and that’s a major difference between Medjet and other plans.

These medical evacuations are aboard an aircraft with state-of-the-art equipment, usually a Learjet.

“Our aircraft are configured as mobile intensive care units and staffed with specially trained physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists,” says MedjetAssist President Roy Berger.

“We work with some 90 affiliates in the United States and in more than 20 other countries around the world to ensure that our aircraft are efficiently positioned to quickly reach any injured or ill member almost anywhere in the world,” Mr. Berger says. “We’re underwritten by Lloyd’s of London.”

Naturally there are some limitations, such as:

• You are limited to two medical evacuations per membership, or more in the case of a common accident involving multiple family members.

• You need to be taken to the nearest accessible landing strip. (In some places, a smaller aircraft is needed for the initial phase of the evacuation).

• A companion who wishes to accompany you might be able to fly with you free — but only if the company is satisfied that this will not interfere with your medical needs and there is sufficient room in the aircraft.

• In certain circumstances, if your condition permits, you may be transported by scheduled commercial airline attended by and under the care of a MedjetAssist medical team.

What about the worst-case possibility — what if your injury or illness results in death? MedjetAssist will transport your remains to whatever location your family designates.

For an additional $99, annual members can upgrade to MedjetAssist Plus, which provides four additional benefits:

• Storing your personal and family medical and vital health information securely online so that in an emergency it can be transmitted quickly to your health care provider anywhere in the world.

• The use of an international cell phone that works in about 150 countries on any of your overseas trips; you pay $40 for shipping and returning the phone plus the actual cost of any airtime charges.

• Access to a first-rate risk-assessment service that gives you up-to-date information on the political situation and health and safety issues in more than 260 cities and 180 countries throughout the world.

• An emergency cash advance of up to $50,000 to cover any immediate medical needs, a welcome service because many foreign medical centers require payment in advance of treatment.

Travelers should remember what MedjetAssist is not: It is not a health care plan, and it is not a travel insurance policy. It is a prepaid air medical evacuation membership program. It also is not only for international travel protection.

Because most Americans spend more time traveling within our own country than we do overseas, there is a greater demand for medical evacuations of Americans traveling in the United States than for Americans traveling abroad. Two-thirds of MedjetAssist’s medical evacuations occur in the United States.

The company’s slogan is: “Take trips. Not chances.” That’s a clever slogan, and it is good advice.

For more information about MedjetAssist, call 800/963-3538; visit www.medjetassist.com; e-mail info@medjetassist.com.

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