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What’s the Deal with Medical Evacuation Insurance? Is this a Real Service?

medical evacuation insurance
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Medical evacuation is a term occasionally attached to certain brands of travel insurance. It conjures up images of helicopter rescues in remote areas, emergencies that are serious and time sensitive. Are these services real?

Yes, they are real, and depending on the company, they can provide a serious level of care and attention. Here is an excerpt from a Fodor’s travel forum from a user who required medical evacuation services:

Hi, in 1993, I had Travel Insurance with a company called Bon Voyage. I was traveling alone, going where I wanted when I wanted. While walking down a hillside toward a beach on an island off the north coast of Spain, I fell. (Lesson: don’t be distracted by gorgeous nudists on a beach!) I heard an ominous CRACK as I fell. Turned out I’d broken my leg in four places. The insurance covered me for all of the following, without any payment upfront or later from me. Red Cross rescue boat back to the mainland and six (gorgeous) young men with a stretcher to get me to the boat, ambulance to the hospital, six days stay in the hospital (no picnic, no surgery, just a temporary caste) a nurse flown out from England to accompany me back to Canada via England, 3 first class seats for the nurse, me and my outstretched leg to Madrid then London, an ambulance to a private hospital outside London for the night (nice place!), another ambulance ride back to Heathrow and first class seats on British Airways back to Vancouver, where I presume my BC health insurance kicked in for the subsequent stay in hospital.
Link: Fodor’s Travel Forum

The company referenced by the user describes medical evacuation insurance or medevac insurance as follows:

What is Medical Evacuation (Medevac) insurance?
Medevac insurance covers the cost of an air ambulance, attending physician and nurse, etc. if you are injured or so ill that you can’t return home (or get to a suitable medical facility) on a scheduled commercial passenger flight. Medical evacuations can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is coverage for the really big problems such as a helicopter rescue, which can run you in the tens of thousands of dollars. It makes sense to buy this coverage if you’re going on an “adventure” vacation, or to an area where you’ll be far from modern medical facilities.

These are the standard components of medical evacuation insurance that are covered: air ambulance or commercial flight (depending on the severity of the injury/sickness) and a medical escort (physician or nurse).

Medical evacuation insurance typically does not include coverage once you are at the destination hospital. Some travel insurance packages include both a medical evacuation component as will as other forms of medical care (hospital stays, doctor visits, etc.) It is critical to read the fine print when taking out a policy.

Who needs to take out medical evacuation insurance?

If you are traveling in rural areas, doing any type of adventure sports, or if you are traveling in a developing world country that may not have adequate medical care even in its biggest cities.

Is it a worthy investment?

I have a friend here in Bamako, Mali who suffered a severe leg fracture from a motor bike accident in Uganda. He ended up getting flown to a hospital in Nairobi where he could receive adequate care. When the Nairobi hospital could not longer provide care (they were not equipped for some of the surgeries he required), he was flown to Australia, his home country, where he was treated and rehabilitated. This was a nightmare as it was. Without medical evacuation insurance, this would have been even worse. A short flight in a helicopter will cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

Who offers medical evacuation insurance?

Before selecting any of the plans from the carriers below, make sure to read the fine print. Sometimes pricing and services are different based on what country you live in, your age, and possibly other factors. In some cases, travel in certain countries may not be covered and certain sports or activities may preclude you from coverage. Read the fine print.

World Nomads – if a facility does not provide adequate care they will cover the costs (up to $500,000) to transport you to a facility with proper care, includes escort.
Travel Guard – Travel Guard provides emergency medical evacuations and 24 hour support. If required they will cover transport costs back to your home hospital.
Medjet Assist – Arranges medical transportation services to the hospital of your choice. Offer a variety of membership options, including short-term.
Global Rescue – Emergency evacuation from anywhere in the world and 24/7 medical advice and support from physicians at Johns Hopkins Medicine in the United States. They offer yearly plans as well as plans for short term trips.

We mentioned the fine print. Don’t forget to read it. Also, feel free to call any of these companies before selecting a policy. How you are treated on the phone may indicate the quality of their overall service. Also, it gives you a chance to ask more specific questions. As a general rule, do not buy any sort of travel health insurance or medical evacuation service in haste. Take your time and select the best plan.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Nancy @Family on Bikes July 19, 2011, 5:36 pm

    I can’t imagine ever traveling without evac insurance! Ever! Yes, I spent an entire year cycling Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh with no insurance whatsoever – but that was back when I was young and foolish. I would never recommend that path.

    We learned about the importance of evacuation insurance when my husband was evacuated from Ethiopia. He would have died there if we hadn’t been able to get an air ambulance to take him out. The whole story is here: http://comadmin.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/family-bikes/2010/feb/6/health-concerns-international-travel/

    Thanks for a great site – I am really enjoying browsing around!

    • admin July 20, 2011, 10:17 pm

      Wow, Nancy I just read your story in the Wa. Times. Lots of great info and there and what an intense story about your husband. You definitely help make the case for evacuation insurance!!

  • Malcolm June 4, 2015, 3:45 am

    Please tell me of a company that provides rescue from remote locations. Global rescue
    does not. They told me they’d only pick me up from a medical facility! Global rescue my ass…..what use is that when you fall off your motorbike in a desert??

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