Travel Basics by Roy Berger
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Are You Gambling on Travel-Medical Coverage?
Thursday, September 20, 2018 -- Come on, be honest. We know a lot of the stuff we should read, we don't. After all we've been doing this travel thing for so long, what's not to know?

When, for example, is the last time you read your rental car agreement? You know your daily rate and you think (and hope) that your credit card gives you all the coverage you need. And maybe you understand that you must return the gas tank full or risk legal loansharking by having the rental firm fill it for you.

But what happens if you have a fender bender? What if the car is disabled? What if it's stolen? It's all in a contract none of us have ever read--and probably couldn't read because the fine print is now so fine that even our magnifiers don't help.

How about an airline Contract of Carriage? Reviewed one of them over a Dewar's lately? Of course you haven't. It supposedly explains our air rights, assuming we have any. It appears a lot happened at that Montreal Convention but very little was in our favor. And who was at the convention anyway?

I'm guessing pretty much the same for your major medical and Medicare policies. Read those from cover to cover lately? You may have a bit more insight over your Blue Cross than perhaps the Hertz and Delta agreements, but you still don't understand the full scope of it. And until you need to use it, you probably never will.

But here's the thing: The chance of needing to know the details of your medical protection is much higher than you think. According to the Merck Manual, one in 30 trips abroad end in a medical emergency. It's a staggering statistic when you consider that Transportation Department figures show only about one in 100 flights are cancelled and one in 500 flyers loses checked luggage.

What happens if you or a family member happens to be a travel medical lottery "winner?" Do you really understand what coverage you have and what happens when you present your insurance or Medicare card at a hospital overseas?

Jim Grace, founder and chief executive of the country's leading online travel insurance aggregator, InsureMyTrip.com, has some time-tested advice.

"Whether you are over 65 on Medicare or have major medical coverage privately or through an employer, you need to ask the insurance carrier questions on how far your coverage extends," Grace says. "Before leaving on a trip you need to have a complete understanding of what type of coverage you have and what your policy or Medicare supplement may offer. You should understand your risk tolerance and then have a better feel for what you need."

Demographics have made Grace an expert in the field travel medical coverage. Although InsureMyTrip.com does the bulk of its business in the trip cancellation, trip interruption and lost luggage categories, an estimated 10,000 Boomers a day are crossing into senior status and switching to Medicare from private or corporate medical coverage.

"Especially if you are on Medicare," Grace claims, "travel medical insurance is the ticket that Medicare isn't."

Mike Ambrose, president and chief executive of travel insurance giant Travelex, also sees a pattern of older Americans looking to span the globe.

"Anybody traveling should be looking at purchasing travel medical coverage," Ambrose suggests. "People who aren't interested [traditional trip insurance] are the same people want to make sure they have coverage or a supplement to their existing medical policies."

To pass some of my own new-found retirement time, I went to the InsureMyTrip.com site, hit the "medical" tab and priced three scenarios for foreign medical coverage for me, a 66-year-old booking a ten-day trip to Prague.

I was offered nearly a dozen choices for medical coverage starting at $39.00. Shockingly, it was the same price for a 10-day trip to Israel and Botswana. That's not $39.00 a day but $39.00 for the entire trip. That's only a few bucks more than most airlines now charge for the first checked bag. The upper end of the policy spectrum for the same destinations and duration was $220 for the entire trip. The InsureMyTrip.com site does a good job giving details of coverage and exclusions for all eleven of the travel medical policies offered.

As we age our most valuable asset is not money but our health. It seems silly to roll the dice beyond our borders on medical coverage because we never thought to ask. Personally, no matter the coverage I have, I'll always buy a travel medical policy to have as a supplement.

Still, there's more to it than just having coverage via major medical, a Medicare supplement or trip-specific travel medical plan. You need to be prepared to pay for any international services received out of pocket and then file a claim when you return. In the event major credit cards are not accepted by the medical provider, you'll need an alternative. In most cases, that means cash.

During my tenure at Medjet, we coined the catchphrase Take Trips, Not Chances. The mentality still very much applies to air medical membership programs like Medjet. It will get you home to your family and physician circle while recuperating from unexpected illness or injury while traveling. JoeSentMe members also receive a discount on the annual membership fee, so check your membership packet.

Bottom line: It's worth a few extra minutes on the phone or on the Web to make sure we take trips and not chances with our medical coverage while away from home.

ABOUT ROY BERGER
Roy Berger recently retired after 20 years as president and chief executive of Medjet, the premier travel medical assistance membership program in the country. Medjet headquarters are in Birmingham, Alabama, where Berger swapped his Bronx-born, Long Island-raised and Miami-educated pastrami on rye for a plate of grits and collard greens. He and his wife Andi are relocating to Summerlin north of Las Vegas to be closer to their two sons in Los Angeles. Berger has rekindled his love for baseball and authored two books: The Most Wonderful Week of the Year in 2014 and Big League Dream in 2017. Both became best sellers among his relatives and are available on Amazon.com. Roy also writes a personal blog called Sunday Morning Coffee at RoyBerger.com.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Roy Berger. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Roy Berger. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.