The Travel Adviser: Don’t leave home without it

Sometimes this is harder than it sounds.

December 25, 2016 04:03
Samsonite luggage

Samsonite luggage. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It was when Daniel’s El Al flight to Los Angeles was canceled that my thoughts, at the back of my mind, were jolted.

In the midst of the worst labor dispute to hit El Al this century, he decided to risk a quick trip to LA for work and, even so, on the only nonstop airline that flew there. Sadly, once his flight was delayed, he was rebooked on a flight via New York with a connection on Jet Blue to LA. While the extra hours took a bit of a toll, he was so grateful to get to L.A. for business, and the fact that his suitcase never showed up was a minor irritation.

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That same week, Carole reached out to me in desperation as her visiting Aunty from Mobile, Alabama, had slipped doing some shopping in Mahaneh Yehuda and was now under the wonderful care at Hadassah Hospital. Carole’s call was to ask if I could, wink wink, nudge nudge, arrange for her Aunt’s traveler’s insurance retroactively, as Hadassah had presented her a bill of over $15,000. The fact that her Aunt was a tourist and showed up to visit the Holy Land assuming that a greater power would look after her made my explanation that I couldn’t backdate an insurance policy palatable.

Daniel’s bag did show up, but well after his return to Israel. His next communication threw me for a loop.

His entire family was traveling to La La Land for the Festival of Lights, and when I commented that he should make a claim on his insurance policy for his delayed luggage, he was bewildered. In fact he didn’t even know if his policy covered luggage. His tepid defense was that his wife handled the insurances when they flew abroad, and most likely arranged it through her Kupat Holim healthcare provider. His Hebrew being limited, he asked if I could review the policy on his behalf.

A quick perusal showed the entire family had a basic policy, of which baggage elements were included. It also showed me that one member of his family had additional coverage due to an existing condition. In fact, this is one of the most important elements in choosing a policy. It was my great joy to inform him that his wife’s policy included an existing condition – her pregnancy. His reaction when I wished him mazal tov was heard by my entire office when I translated his policy. To this day I am unsure if his wife planned to tell him on the plane or before they left the country.

He was, however, quite grateful that they had complete coverage, and promised me they would always have insurance when they flew.

The fact that so many people fly without travel insurance boggles my mind. Even if one has complete faith that nothing bad will ever happen, failure to obtain insurance when there are so many components involved when traveling abroad that are out of anyone’s control borders on gross negligence. The Association of Israeli Travel Agents has been active for years in making sure all travel consultants have the tools to offer a myriad of policies. It’s not a difficult process, and I’m constantly advising all passengers that purchasing travel insurance should be seen as obligatory. Insurance companies sell what may happen tomorrow.

We start with a simple inquiry, which should cover any policy you choose to purchase: Which of the following policies would you like to purchase?

1. “Regular” Insurance Policy: a. No preexisting or chronic conditions (asthma, diabetes, pregnancy, etc.) b. No surgeries during the last six months c. No hospitalizations during the last six months d. No medication taken on a regular basis. If you take any of the following medications, you do not need the extended policy: i. Cholesterol ii. Thyroid iii. Bone Density iv. Aspirin
2. “Extended” Insurance Policy, if the answer is yes to one of the above.

Insurance policies are designed to cover three main areas; Health, Loss or Delay of Personal items, Trip Cancellation. Most will include, with no additional fee, emergency Air Ambulance back to your country of origin.

Deductions, where there are, should be in the $50 range. Rates are calculated on a per-day basis taking into account one’s age and what type of policy is required. Most insurers will be given a cover sheet outlining the days they are insured for, and a cursory list of the general coverage. One can ask for the complete policy, which will detail the exact benefits as well as the reasons why a claim may be denied.

The Basic Policy offered in Israel through one’s Travel Consultant or Health Provider should have these or similar amounts:

• Insurer’s Liability Limit for Medical Expenses: $1,800,000
• Medical Expenses abroad during Hospitalization: Included in Liability Limits • Ground evacuation from the scene of the event to a nearby hospital: Included in Liability Limits
• Air and/or Marine evacuation: $100,000
• Medical transportation by air to Israel: Included in Liability Limits
• Continuation of hospitalization in Israel due to an accident that occurred abroad: up to 120 days
• Medical expenses in Israel as a result of an accident for physiotherapy: $6,000
• Psychological care in Israel: $200 per treatment up to 10 treatments
• Emergency dental treatment: $400
• Physiotherapy abroad: $5,000 (Obviously physical therapists abroad earn more money than dentists.) Special Expenses:
• Travel cancellation: Travel ticket & policyholder companion: $5,000
• Travel shortening: Travel ticket & policyholder companion: $2,000
• Additional stay in a hotel abroad: $1,000
• Emergency flight – close family member: $1,500
• Pregnancy first diagnosed abroad: • First diagnostic test up to first trimester: $1,000
• Ectopic pregnancy up to the end of the first trimester: $10,000
• Legal Expenses abroad: $5,000 (Yes if you’re arrested abroad, your insurance will cover your lawyer’s fees up to $5,000. Not for your bail, only for your attorney.)
• Body transfer expenses: Included in liability limit for medical expenses • Death or loss of organs: up to age 18 – $12,500 for loss of organs only; age 18-67 –$25,000 for death or loss of organs.
• Third-party liability: $150,000 (A very important component when you rent a car. It means if you injure someone while driving, your policy will cover damages up to $150,000.)
•Baggage: $2,250
• Limitation per item: $300
• Valuables: $500 • Baggage theft from a vehicle: $750
• Delay in baggage arrival: $750
• Camera: $350 (To insure your laptop, table computer or smartphone, you need to pay a surcharge! Other unique items may warrant a surcharge as well.) I’M OFTEN asked whether travel insurance is worth it, but offering an explanation on all that it covers usually clears up any apprehension.

What happens though when you’re abroad though? The basic rule is that if you’re sick, you should go to the doctor, pay him or her, and bring back all relevant documents. Some companies offer you the use of their doctors, but none require you use them.

If God forbid you’re hospitalized, all policies should have a 24/7 number that can be reached to inform them of the hospitalization. Keep in mind that in North America, emergency rooms or Urgent Care centers, while physically adjacent to the hospital, are separate entities, and if you’re not being admitted to a hospital, it’s like visiting the doctor: Pay up and make your claim for reimbursement.

If anything gets stolen or damaged, you must return with either a police or airline report. Ideally in English, but we’ve handled claims where the doctors’ diagnosis was in Flemish.

There is, however, one caveat about most insurance companies. Quite often when making the claim, one is left with a feeling that you’re a liar trying to cheat the company out of money. This isn’t explicitly stated, of course, but that’s how you’re made to feel.

These are companies trying to maintain profit margins first and helping you second. This is important to realize, since the entire process can be exceptionally frustrating.

Basically, for any claim, you need to clearly prove three things: 1. That you paid for it 2. That you didn’t use it 3. That you didn’t get reimbursed for it.

Sometimes this is harder than it sounds.

Say you booked a hotel online, prepaid, and have a receipt. Due to health reasons you had to cancel. The rate was nonrefundable, and obtaining proof that you were never there sometimes can be a frustrating process. Same when you book that ultra-low-cost flight – proving you didn’t fly it and lost your money is not simple.

Those examples pale in comparison though when it comes to having your insurance company handle your claim for a hospital stay in the US. Non-insured hospital rates rival the price of new cars, and within one month of nonpayment, it’s turned over to a collection agency.

While your Israeli insurance company is just starting contact with the U.S. hospital and beginning the arduous process of negotiating for a lower amount, you’re being bombarded with threatening mails or phone calls.

Being legally protected doesn’t offer much solace, and many a client has complained bitterly of feeling torn from both sides. Sadly, the harassment is quite uncomfortable, with little remedy other than constantly nudging the insurance company to settle the claim.

Never forget this truism: Nobody likes insurance companies, especially health insurance companies.

Mark Feldman is CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]

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