In years past, we purchased medical-evacuation coverage in case we broke a leg while hiking in the Alps or had a heart attack on a remote island with no decent hospital. The goal was to avoid a $100,000 to $200,000 bill for emergency medical transport to the best regional medical facility or even home to a hospital you trust. Nowadays, though, the nightmare scenario in our minds as we try to plan travel is the possibility—small but expensive—of ending up hospitalized with Covid-19 far from home. It’s no longer just the cost of medical transport that’s a concern; it’s whether a Covid-infected person can even get transported at all. Here’s what you need to know about how to get flown home for treatment and how to protect yourself from a financial disaster.
What kind of medical transportation does conventional travel insurance offer?
Some travel insurance policies will pay for transportation to a medical facility, should you become sick or injured—but they will only take you to the nearest facility that they deem appropriate. If you’re traveling internationally, that probably means a clinic or hospital in the country you’re visiting, where you’ll be treated until you’re well enough to take a commercial flight home. At a bare minimum, you should make sure your insurance provides at least $100,000 in coverage for medical evacuation to the nearest adequate medical center. Indeed, some countries that have reopened to U.S. travelers are requiring that visitors have proof of insurance that will cover any necessary medical and evacuation costs.
What if I want to be flown to a hospital near my home for treatment?
If you’ve been hospitalized away from home but you want to be treated near family and friends, you need a second layer of protection. Specialized medical-evacuation programs such as AirMed International, Global Rescue, and Medjet will transport members to the hospital of their choice once they are medically stable. You can purchase a short-term membership from one of these programs to cover a single trip, or an annual membership for an entire year’s worth of travel. The cost of medical evacuation to a hospital back home can easily reach $150,000 or more, so this benefit is important on both international and domestic trips.
What if I’m hospitalized with Covid-19?
Some, but not all, medical evacuation programs will transport Covid-positive patients. Medjet will transport Covid-positive members within the 48 contiguous United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, and Costa Rica (individual memberships start at $250 for 30 days of coverage). Covac Global, a newcomer to the industry, is focusing its services specifically on Covid cases and will only transport members diagnosed—but not necessarily hospitalized—with the virus (it’s also the most expensive option, at $995 per person for 30 days of coverage, and they will only cover up to 14 days on each individual trip). But such transport involves a complex web of factors that include laws and government quarantines in the current location and at home, air ambulance availability, and even permission from countries below the plane’s flight path. Given these complications, there is no guarantee that you will be transported home if you contract the virus—or that going home is even medically advisable. If your main reason for purchasing a medical evacuation membership is to get home after contracting Covid-19, discuss this with the provider before signing on, and educate yourself about the regulations in your destination.
Is membership in a medical evacuation program worth it?
Even during a pandemic, the more routine dangers of travel—a car accident, a hiking fall—haven’t gone away. In fact, you’re probably more likely to be hospitalized due to an injury or the flare-up of a pre-existing condition than you are to be infected with Covid. There is also the possibility that you could end up hospitalized with Covid and, after your initial infection clears, complications ensue that require extended hospitalization (e.g., lung damage, organ damage); in that instance, once you are cleared from initial infection, any of these medical evacuation programs (except Covac Global) will cover the costs to move you to a hospital back home. For all these reasons, we advise travelers to join a medical evacuation program that will, in most cases, protect them from extended hospitalizations far from home.
Which medical evacuation program do you recommend?
Wendy personally has a MedjetHorizon membership covering her and her family, partly because it offers crisis protection too: If during a trip you feel that your safety and security may be threatened—because of a political incident, terror attack, or other crisis—Medjet will come to the rescue. As for travel insurance to get you as far as the nearest medical facility that the insurance company deems appropriate, the policy that Wendy purchases for her and her family members always depends on the circumstances of the trip, but she often chooses and recommends Travelex Insurance Services. That’s because its Travel Select policy is the policy she’s received the best feedback about from travelers, when it comes to reliability, generosity, and customer care. Transparency disclosure: Medjet and Travelex are both sponsors of WendyPerrin.com. But that’s because Wendy believes in them and uses them herself. (Travelex Insurance Services is not related in any way to the defunct currency-exchange business Travelex.)
We’re here to help
If you’re thinking about a trip during Covid, write to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can ensure that your entire trip is safe, smart, and extraordinary. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes. For future (post-Covid) trips, use The WOW List to find the best destination specialist for your needs.