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Shark Attack is a Bloody Reminder to Review Insurance when Travelling Abroad

Posted on Aug 9, 2010

Previously, we discussed, Alligator wrangling on the rise in Florida: Over-development and drunk idiots to blame, discussing how there is approximately one alligator for every 12.5 humans and the insurance-related challenges this co-existence can create.

Moving further offshore, in honor of last week’s Discovery Channel, “Shark Week”, we’re exploring a health insurance related issue brought to life by one predator of the sea and its appetite for human arms. The high-profile ordeal of a vacationing Florida man recently brought a media feeding frenzy to the topic of sharks, traveling abroad and insurance.

Luis Hernandez was swimming off a boat in the Bahamas when he was attacked by a shark that shredded his arm to pieces. Blessed to be saved by his wife who pulled him safely onto the boat, the man literally had to sit and wait, bleeding in a large transport plane while his credit card was run for $7,500, covering the cost of the medical evacuation. Also using his credit card, the shark-bitten man was able to pay an additional $13,000 for Bahamian medical care and transportation to a specialized U.S. hospital, but all told, Luis was on the hook for close to $700,000 in medical costs for surgery and recovery.

Facing financial ruin and reduced mobility with his arm, Luis followed all the protocols of his insurance company, which were extensive, and was able to recuperate his medical expenses while gaining 70% of his arm strength. Despite the somewhat happy ending, this whole scenario raises many questions about health insurance coverage when travelling out of the country. The fact is, not all health insurance plans operate the same when you leave the country.

Fortunately, the government has taken steps to provide information for those travelling abroad by creating the Travel.State.gov website. On its homepage the site states the following:

Before going abroad, learn what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas. If your health insurance policy provides coverage outside the United States, REMEMBER to carry both your insurance policy identity card as proof of such insurance and a claim form. Although many health insurance companies will pay “customary and reasonable” hospital costs abroad, very few will pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States. Medical evacuation can easily cost $10,000 and up, depending on your location and medical condition.

Underscoring a message for retired or senior citizen travelers, the site makes it clear in ALL CAPS and bold that: THE SOCIAL SECURITY MEDICARE PROGRAM DOES NOT PROVIDE COVERAGE FOR HOSPITAL OR MEDICAL COSTS OUTSIDE THE U.S.A. Supplemental life insurance is available as a backup.

Additionally, Travel.State.gov offers additional resources for travelers going abroad including:

Air Ambulance/Med-Evac Companies

Doctors/Hospitals abroad

Avian Flu Fact Sheet

Foot and Mouth Disease Fact Sheet

Chemical/Biological Agents Fact Sheet

Responding to Radiological and Nuclear Incidents

Next time you or a customer plans an adventure vacation that involves diving with sharks, going on safari or a jungle expedition, it’s a good idea to review what IS and IS NOT covered by insurance,  just in case your arm ends up as a meal.

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