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Emergency Evacuation Coverage Often Ignored

Posted on Aug 23, 2010 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: Air Ambulance, Emergency Evacuation, European Health Insurance Card, FCO, International Health Insurance, Medical Repatriation

With the ability to travel across the world getting easier every year, one thing many people do not take into account is the price of getting home should an accident occur. Cases like Carrie-Anne Dudbridge and Ryan Elley are sad illustrations of the necessities of travel insurance in the modern age. There have been a number of incidents this year involving holidaymakers, many of them from Britain, who have suffered a tragic accident while vacationing in another country. Many of these occurrences have happened within Europe, likely due to the fact that traveling between European Union member states is an easy and economical way to reach some of the most sought after travel destinations in the world. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 in 2006, also reassures travelers within the EU, by offering them some level of health insurance coverage when visiting other member states. However, in some cases the EHIC may be lulling people into a false sense of safety, as many are still confused over what exactly is covered by the EHIC. The EHIC guarantees holder the same access to healthcare as a local resident in the event of illness or accident while traveling. While this can lead to some minor aggravation and bureaucratic hoop-jumping, depending on whether the country the EHIC holder is visiting has copayments, or relies on a system where you pay for treatment up front and claim the costs back, recent accidents have demonstrated that it is no replacement for actual travel or international health insurance. Should someone suffer an unforeseen catastrophic injury that requires hospitalization while on vacation, it may be necessary to transfer the patient by air ambulance to the nearest medical facility capable of providing the necessary care. Furthermore, depending on the quality of the local healthcare system or the feasibility of waiting for the patient to recover enough to travel home regularly, it may be necessary to transport the patient back to their home nation via medical repatriation. In either case, the costs associated with both air ambulances and medical repatriation are extraordinary; without the appropriate medical insurance in place individuals are left facing thousands of dollars in fees. Ryan Elley and Carrie-Anne Dudbridge are just two of the most recent in a long line of unfortunate accidents in European getaway locations. Ryan Elley, 20 years old, made a last-minute decision to join his friends in Playa d'en Bossa, a well known party destination on the Spanish island of Ibiza, without taking out health insurance. While at the Jet Apartments at the resort, Elley fell from a second floor balcony, breaking his spine in three places, puncturing a lung and suffering serious head injuries. Elley was the second British national to fall from a balcony at the Jet Apartments, after Peter Carter was injured earlier in 2010 when he attempted to jump from a 3rd floor balcony into the pool, but misjudged the distance. This activity has apparently happened frequently enough that it is now dubbed 'balconing' and Spanish authorities in the Balearic Islands are asking tourists to restrain themselves to prevent injuries. Ryan Elley was placed in a medical coma at the Son Dureta hospital in Palma, Majorca. His parents are trying to repatriate him to England, but due to the fact he did not take out medical insurance they now face a GBP 15,000 (USD 23,360) bill for the air ambulance. So far his family and friends have raised GBP 8,000 towards the costs of the air ambulance. Carrie-Anne Dudbridge was a newlywed on her honeymoon to the Greek island of Corfu with husband Michael Dudbridge, when she suffered a tragic accident and fell 20 feet from the balcony, fracturing her spine in three places. The Dudbridges did have the EHIC, which they believed would cover their expenses in the case of an accident, however, they found out that the EHIC does not provide cover for medical transportation. Because the couple did not have travel insurance, they faced having to pay GBP 16,000 (USD 25,000) for an air ambulance to repatriate Carrie-Anne back to England. Mr. Dudbridge launched an appeal for help on the internet, which thankfully has raised about GBP 20,000 (USD 31,190), enough to have the Dudbridges flown back to England on Sunday, August 22nd 2010, by Mediaviation, a private air ambulance service. These incidents occurred in first world nations, Greece and Spain respectively, where the quality of healthcare and medical treatment is generally considered to be fairly high. If Carrie-Anne had suffered her injury in a country where the provision of medical treatment is much more limited the costs involved with transporting her home safely could be much higher. Were Ryan Elley to have been injured somewhere further a field than Spain, it could have been very difficult and cost-prohibitive for his family to fly out and assist him, in effect leaving him alone in a foreign country with no insurance. Thailand for instance, where approximately 860,000 Briton tourists visited between March 2009 and 2010, happens to be the place where, proportionally, the most number of British tourists are likely to die or end up in hospital according to British Behavior Abroad, a report by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). The report also illustrates the unfortunate fact that due to financial pressures, many holidaymakers are forgoing travel insurance to save money. It is important to make sure that you have some level of protection when traveling, whether that is through basic travel insurance or an international medical insurance plan that covers emergency evacuations. While having some form of protection is a start, it is necessary to have an understanding of what your insurance covers, as in some cases travel insurance will not cover you if there is an accident where drugs or alcohol are involved. Accidents do happen, and as Chris Bryant, the British Foreign Office Minister said, "Getting comprehensive travel insurance means that whilst an accident may disrupt your holiday, it won't bankrupt you in extortionate medical or repatriation bills."
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