Why buy travel insurance? Cajya Darling, 28, was on vacation in Cancun in October with her husband when she had difficulty breathing.
A trip to a local hospital revealed she had a collapsed lung, and a check of her health insurance revealed she was covered, so the Mexico doctors recommended she stay there for six to eight weeks to see if her lung would heal on its own, according to Darling.
Not wanting to wait for nature to take its course, her family quickly paid $28,940 for Angel MedFlight to fly her to a hospital in Texas for treatment. The total bill for the air ambulance service was $213,380, a fee Darling expects her insurer to cover because the hospital in Mexico where she stayed is based in Florida.
"It was pretty frightening," the New Jersey resident said of the ordeal and having to try to communicate with medical staff who didn't speak English very well. "Very confusing, very traumatic."
Now home and healthy again, Darling said her doctors still aren't sure what caused the collapsed lung.
She didn't buy travel insurance before her vacation, but now says she will the next time she travels overseas. "I didn't think to get that because I didn't think that anything would happen," she said. "But from now on we're going to get it."
Travel insurance is a good investment if travelers read the options and know exactly what they're getting, said Kelly LoCascio, CEO and general counsel of Angel MedFlight. The problem is that much of the travel insurance for sale doesn't cover repatriation and can have many exclusions, LoCascio said.
Policies should include any sports activities you're going to participate in, emergency medical evacuation, and coverage for an air ambulance to a licensed medical facility close to your home for further treatment or recovery. Some policies may cover only air or ground transportation to the nearest adequate medical facility, leaving you thousands of miles from home until you're well enough to fly commercially.
LoCascio also recommends leaving medical information such as a copy of your insurance card, and any supplemental policies purchased, with a family member before traveling.
Angel MedFlight has an in-house team that will review, at no charge, insurance policies for coverage of its services.
The company files claims for insurance preauthorization and will know within 48 hours if a potential customer is covered, she said.
"We're not giving you a surprise when you're in the midst of this crisis."
"We literally take the insurance process away from them," she said of helping injured patients.
At $155 per mile and a base rate of $12,600, a flight can quickly add up on Angel MedFlight. Darling was flown 792 miles at a low altitude so that her collapsed lung wouldn't get worse.
Common injuries that it require Angel MedFlight's services are cancer, paralysis, head injury and being ventillated, as Darling was.
When's the best time to check for travel insurance? Probably around summer, when water-related sports injuries are common, LoCascio said. Consider that next summer when $100 travel insurance looks too steep.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at www.AaronCrowe.net
Travel insurance: $213,380 says you need it when traveling abroad