How does medical evacuation insurance work?
You’re in Sochi, supporting the Jamaican bobsled team. As a tropical island dweller, you’re more familiar with the ice that comes in cocktails than ice on the pavement. You fall harder than Tonya Harding’s reputation after the Nancy Kerrigan scandal.
What happens next?
Local rescue services transfer you to a nearby hospital, where you get assessed and treated. Since you followed the advice travel writers constantly give, you have a copy of your insurance policy along with your visa and passport, so your insurance company gets notified right away. Your insurer dispatches the assistance company representative, who contacts the hospital, obtains relevant medical information and determines the course of future care.
Your assistance guy will assess the local scene. Need specialised equipment or caregivers? You may need to evacuate. If you can get on a plane, great. If you’re too beat up to travel on your own, it’s time for a medical evacuation.
An air ambulance is exactly that. Don’t plan on bringing your fellow bobsled fans; with the staff, supplies, equipment and you, space is tight.
You may not get all the way back to Jamaica in one trip. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may get to hang out in Germany until you’re in better shape to travel. If you’re in really bad shape, you may have to stay in Russia. In both of these cases, you will have visa issues.
A holdover of Communism is a passion for papers. Changing visas for any reason is best done with the help of someone who understands Russian language and culture. Your policy should cover paper-wrangling, so let the local agent handle the paperwork.
Medical evacuation insurance doesn’t cost much; medical evacuations cost a fortune, up to 14 million Jamaican dollars (€100,000) in some cases. But it’s not just about the money. Agents track down your family members and navigate tricky travel and visa arrangements. They handle the bills and the paperwork, set up the medevac and do all the things that you can’t do.
As with any insurance policy, there are exclusions. Most policies have a Drunk and Stupid clause which won’t cover injuries made while being, well, drunk and stupid. Watch the booze, and remember that the laws of gravity work exactly the same way in Russia as they do at home.
Who needs it?
Travellers headed to conflict zones should consider medical evac. Adventure travellers in areas with unreliable medical care, yup. Bottom line: if your destination lacks decent medical or transport infrastructure, you need med evac.