Falcon medevac

Be Ready for Medical Emergencies Abroad

Falling critically ill or suffering serious injury while traveling overseas presents a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out how to get to your home hospital or other first-rate care facility once you’re stable enough to be moved. Odds are you won’t make the trip on your own jet, unless it has the equipment, medical crew, and configuration required of air ambulance operators.

The good news is that more than a dozen such operators provide transportation from international locales to the U.S., according to the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems. The nonprofit CAMTS sets the voluntary standards that ground, fixed-wing, and rotary ambulance providers must follow to earn accreditation from the organization.

An air ambulance flight can cost $200,000 or more, depending in part on your location. “Many travelers have found themselves stuck in foreign hospitals or footing a big bill to get home to their own doctors and hospital,” says Mike Hallman, CEO of Medjet, an air medical transport and travel security membership program. You can, however, offset that cost significantly through insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation or with membership in a program that specializes in providing such transport. 

The most significant difference between medevac insurance and membership programs is that the latter don’t cover treatment and hospitalization overseas. However, they will typically transport you to the hospital of your choosing anywhere in the world, whereas some medevac insurers cover only the cost of getting you to the nearest hospital they deem appropriate for treatment and not necessarily all the way home. 

“If you find yourself hospitalized abroad, a medical transport membership like Medjet makes sure you get home for treatment and recovery,” Hallman says. “It provides bedside-to-bedside transport to a hospital of your choice.” It doesn’t require you to file a claim and you won’t get a bill post-transport. “Your only cost is the membership,” Hallman adds. 

As for the insurers, “Some of them will pay only for you to get to a Westernized hospital,” says Sean Jackson, director of global risk for insurance broker IMA. “So they’ll reimburse you or pay to get you to somewhere in Germany or London, something like that. Unless there’s a life-or-death situation and the only doctor who can keep you alive is at the Mayo Clinic or whatever—then they’ll get you back to the States.”

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Before paying for insurance or membership in a medevac program, check whether your personal or employer’s health or travel-accident policies would cover your medical expenses internationally, including the cost of evacuation. Ask, too, whether your insurance will pay providers directly or whether you’ll have to wait to be reimbursed after filling out claim forms. (If it’s the latter, some hospitals will want evidence before they administer treatment that you can pay for it with insurance, a credit card, or cash.) 

It also would behoove you to know exactly how much of the cost your health insurance or your company’s business travel policy will cover or whether you could use those policies to help offset the costs of a medevac flight. Nearly all types of medical insurance have a limit on how much they’ll pay for such a flight, and the tab for yours might exceed it.

“The most expensive air ambulance flight I ever saw was right around $250,000,” says Jackson. “That was from somewhere in Africa back to the States. There was a bunch of stuff wrong with the patient, and his family wanted to bring him home. Fortunately for him, the policy he had capped medical evacuation coverage at $250,000 per incident, but he got pretty darn close to that number.” 

The annual cost of an individual medevac insurance planis typically around $200 while single-trip coverage can run as little as $45. Prices depend on factors such as the age of the person or people covered, whether you buy an individual or family plan, whether the insurance is annual or for a single trip, the length of the trip, and whether you opt for any optional coverage, such as for lost baggage or trip interruption. Plans include Allianz Global Assistance, AIG Travel Guard, and United Healthcare SafeTrip

Like medevac insurance, membership programs are available on a short-term or annual basis. An individual Medjet membership covering domestic and international travel starts at $99 for an eight-day trip while a year-long membership costs $295 and up. AirMed individual memberships start at $115 for 14 days and $265 for a year. 

In most cases, these programs begin their work as soon as you call, consulting with your physician at the foreign hospital to determine whether your transport home requires a medically equipped aircraft and crew or whether you’re well enough to fly commercially with a medical escort. 

There are differences among air ambulance membership programs. Medjet, for example, contracts with air ambulance services that own a total of more than 250 aircraft and employ medical crews. AirMed, on the other hand, operates its own fleet of 19 fixed-wing airplanes that include Hawker 800 business jets, Learjets, and Beechcraft King Air turboprops. It also employs its own flight and medical crews, which on a typical mission consist of a registered nurse and respiratory therapist. “If the mission requires a physician or specialist on board, we’ll source that and provide that staff,” says Josh Decker, director of global membership sales for AirMed.

If you’re considering membership with an air ambulance company, ask whether it or its contracted carrier has an FAA operating certificate and whether it can show you proof that it has liability insurance on the aircraft and medical malpractice for the medical crew. You should additionally inquire about the expertise the company or its contracted carrier has providing air ambulance services as well as the qualifications and training of its medical crew. Is it accredited by CAMTS or the European Aeromedical Institute? 

It’s also worth asking whether the provider has the equipment, medicine, and supplies to provide the necessary care for the duration of the flight. For instance, does it have enough oxygen for a seven-hour flight with plenty of reserves should you be delayed or rerouted? That’s the sort of question you don’t want to wait to ask until you need a medical evacuation. 


Getting Care in a Foreign Country

You’re traveling internationally, and you fall seriously ill. Insurance or membership with an air ambulance company will cover transportation home or at least to a well-equipped hospital after your condition stabilizes, but first you need to be treated where you are. How can you find first-rate care? Some of the insurers and membership companies mentioned in the accompanying story can help point you to it, and here are some additional options: 

  • MedAire offers a suite of travel risk-management services to business jet owners and operators, including around-the-clock medical advice and assistance on the ground or in the air. The company’s medical experts can answer questions, provide emergency advice, and refer members to medical and dental providers in the area where they are traveling. The company also operates the MedLink medical-response center for in-flight assistance.
  • The nonprofit International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers maintains an online database of vetted doctors around the world who speak English. To access the database for a year, simply make a donation in an amount of your choosing. The organization also provides current health-risk information for most countries.
  • Many U.S. embassies and consulates provide contact information on local doctors, clinics, and hospitals with the caveat that they assume no responsibility for the quality of services provided. Visit the U.S. State Department’s embassies website and click on the country you’re in. Then click on the U.S. Citizen Services tab, followed by “Local Resources” and “Medical Assistance.” —J.S.
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