The case for travel medical insurance

travel medical insurance
Mark Kogelmann, with his wife, Judy, in purple, and friends Cam McLeod, Alex Romashko, and Meredith Eades, recovering in the Hospital in Santiago, Chile. Photo: Cam McLeod.

Mark Kogelmann was just skiing along, as the saying goes, when fate slapped him upside the head. Kogelmann, a skier, filmmaker, and owner of the production company Soulryders, was in the midst of a multi-week trip to Chile when he caught an edge and wrecked.

“I didn’t have my helmet on for the first time in 10 years at least, so I was skiing purposely in control,” Says Kogelmann. “I just caught an edge on one of those shark fins … and somersaulted right into another rock. It split my head open from the crown to my forehead.” What was more troubling than the blood, however, was his neck. Kogelmann cracked his cervical 1 vertebra in four places. Had it broken completely, he could have died on the spot.

Mark Kogelmann
Kogelmann, before the accident. Photo: Cam McLeod

Even more troubling, however, is that Kogelmann was in the remote region of Chillan, hundreds of miles from a hospital equipped to deal with his injury. He needed an air ambulance, and wasn’t going anywhere until he paid for it. “The life flight alone, from Chillan to Santiago, was $20,000,” Kogelmann says, “and they wouldn’t even move me until they had that money in their account.”

This is where Kogelmann’s luck changed. Shortly before he left, he bought a $113 travel insurance policy that covered him for up to $8 million. Within 24 hours he was on a plane to Santiago, where he spent another 12 days in the hospital. His total cost out of pocket, including his deductible and premium, was just over $600.

emergency crew
An emergency crew works on Kogelmann after a ski accident in Chillan, Chile. Travel medical insurance saved Kogelmann a lot of money, and maybe his life. Photo: Cam McLeod.

Even many seasoned travelers don’t think to get travel medical insurance before going overseas, assuming they are covered by their normal health insurance. But, as Kogelmann learned, a small premium can save you a lot of hassle and money.

“Anyone traveling abroad should consider purchasing a travel medical insurance policy,” Says Wilson Mack of International Medical Group (IMG), who provided Kogelmann’s coverage. “Many domestic insurance policies do not provide coverage abroad except for true emergencies. And domestic insurance plans were not designed to accommodate for the intricacies of international travel. For example, they do not provide emergency evacuation, currency conversion, translation services, and physician referrals.”

Mark Kogelmann
Because he had travel medical insurance, Kogelmann only had to pay just over $600 for an accident that otherwise could have cost him 10s of thousands. Photo: Cam McLeod.

IMG offers a number of different policies for international travel, including a few that are tailored for adventure sports. “The cost varies across the various plans, depending on the coverage that is selected and each individual’s risk factors,” Mack says. “In some cases coverage can be obtained for as little as $1 a day.”

In addition to IMG, there are a multitude of companies that offer travel medical insurance. Your current heath care provider may even be one of them. The U.S. State Department lists several on their website. Mack recommends reading the policy to make sure it covers your needs (i.e., adventure sports), and to make sure the company providing the coverage has the services and capabilities to assist you in the country you are traveling to.

Kogelmann gives a thumbs up as he’s loaded into an ambulance in Chillan. Photo: Cam McLeod.

Kogelmann opted for the IMG’s Patriot Platinum plan. He says it took less than five minutes to sign up, that a company representative stayed in constant contact with his wife during his emergency, and most important, they were able to help when he needed it most. If he had relied on his regular health insurance, he says, he’s not sure if the money for the air evacuation ever would have come though. “I probably would have died right there on the floor of the hospital,” he says.

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