Skiing accident, medical helicopter bill, and travel / medical insurance question

The following is an email I received from a reader who wants to remain anonymous. Any helpful comments would be appreciated:

So one of my wife’s classmates went snowboarding with her boyfriend this last weekend. Her boyfriend had some kind of mishap and fractured his cheekbone against a tree. They took him down to the bottom of the mountain and elected to send him to Reno via helicopter. 5 days later he gets the bill — 30,000 dollars.

What the hell!??! The total time that thing spent in the air couldn’t have been more than an hour. I hope the dude has insurance, though they probably won’t cover all or even much of that cost.

Pretty outrageous. The reason I am writing in is to see if any of your readers know about this stuff. Travel insurance, medical insurance, travel medical insurance, medical evac (domestic) insurance, etc. What do we do to protect ourselves from these $30,000 bills? What should my wife’s classmate’s boyfriend do if he doesn’t have the right insurance?

Filed Under: Travel insurance

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  1. Frances says:

    Similar situation happened to me a few years ago. Fortunately I had insurance that covered a big portion of the bill. It seems to me that as soon as they call the helicopter, they are taking you no matter what, someone has to pay for that bill.

    There’s an insurance you can get through calstar. It’s $50 for the year and if you are ever in an accident, it will cover the flight to the hospital.

  2. Don says:

    Check out the web site before buying any travel insurance policy. Lists numerous insurance companies, allows you to customize the types of coverage you want, does side by side comparisons and includes ratings from Best!

  3. kina says:

    Unfortunately, it is too late to help your friend with their bills now. It would be like waiting until you’re in a car accident before getting auto insurance. Check out and look at the rates. You can get coverage from an A+ rated carrier for 5 days up to 3 years, and its very affordable. Your friend would have gotten 50,000$ for that helicpter trip, plus a million dollars of medical coverage for under 2 bucks a day. I would never take a vacation without it!

  4. Lily says:

    If he was taken safely down the mountain, and wasn’t an emergent case, why didn’t his wife offer to drive him to Reno, or a closer hospital? Often, at the bases of mountains, they have some of the best orthopedic medicine around (knee surgeons, especially). He could have requested to stay there. But even an ambulance ride will cost him, and most insurance companies only cover a certain amount of transport.

    If he’s still a student himself, he can get great coverage from STA travel that covers up to $250,000 of emergency evacuations (though that might only be the number for international trips) and also provides a huge amount of medical and material coverage.

    The bottom line is that we’re always allowed to refuse medical care and transportation. All he’d have to do (or his wife if he were unconscious) is say no, and sign a form. If he DID need to get to the hospital in Reno as fast as possible, he should be thankful that there was a helicopter to take him, and may begin to look at the $30,000 bill as the best money ever spent if it saved his life.

  5. Carin says:

    It’s important to make sure that your travel insurance covers the specific activities you’re participating in. If the policy deems that the activity is considered “adventure travel” and you are not specifically covered for that, they may refuse to reimburse you. Read your policy and/or talk to your broker to make sure you are covered BEFORE leaving; you may need to get Adventure Travel coverage.

  6. Mallory says:

    I have heard that Atlas Travel Insurance offers great insurance.

  7. Eddy says:

    I worked for AIG SA/AIU now Chartis in the Travel department marketing travel insurance to travel agents in a round Gauteng and other provinces, too many to mention.

    The incident of the “cheek meets tree” happened long ago and bearing in mind that I comment from a South African perspective, any way I suppose, generally speaking, travel insurance benefits and products are very similar, here are my thoughts.

    If your friends or injured person used in any way a credit card to purchase public transport to get to their ski resort he/they would then or should have a form of Automatic/Free travel insurance cover. Although this is limited and the benefit somewhat low he would have had a valid claim. The Automatic/Free travel insurance is extended here in SA when purchasing your airline ticket or any public conveyance ticket – a receipt or ticket reflecting travel dates, times, amount paid etc. To give you a better idea of public conveyance here is a scenario that happened at ISOS when staff were allowed to board their new Air Ambulance and were taken for a spin to get their juices flowing no doubt. In the event the air ambulance, for no reason crashed, no one on board would have been covered under any medical scheme due to the fact that the aircraft is not geared to carry passengers and the cabin is very restricted etc. of course they would have been assisted, just like the cheek dude, however for their own expense as the breach of the policy would have occurred. By issuing each person a receipt before boarding the aircraft, for a measly R1,50 = USD 0.50c, this breach of the policy would have been by passed. Although this seems very simple and yes you would be challenged by the underwriters, you cannot deny that you do have a mitigating circumstance and all claims are assessed on individual merit and it is deemed as bad business practice to waiver any should it be for a similar type of accident or medical reason.

    Ok, moving on. Should he have had cover, the underwriters would then assess if there was a breach of policy wording like “hazardous Pursuit”, was the cheek-less dude off the marked ski routes. It is generally the clause that all slopes bar Black Slopes are covered in the event of a medical claim arising from a ski accident. Was he reckless in other words? This is all hearsay and it always imperative that you contact the emergency call enter with the number provided when purchasing a third party travel insurance or call your credit card companies call center and get the number from them and while your on the line query your automatic/free travel insurance AND REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE SAID OR RATHER SPEAK CLEARLY AND TALK IN A SOBER MANNER – BEST IS TO GET THE DESIGNATED DRIVER TO CALL YOUR EMERGENCY IN.. It is advisable that should you qualify for a top up you should take it as the credit card top up insurance is far more reasonable in rate than other products. Third party travel insurance premiums augment or get more expensive the longer you travel and of course as already observed, the more experienced in life you are which is documented in time by a form of branding called age. Should you be 70yrs or older there is a 99.99999% chance that you will never be covered for any medical claims arising from a cardiovascular event – too complicated to go in depth here, however check out any of your existing medical aid schemes or even any life policies it will definitely have a clause stating that “in the event you are over 70yrs old….blah blah…”

    Do not turn your back from purchasing that travel insurance policy. The moment you have the policy certificate in your hands you are then covered under the Cancellation and Curtailment section of your policy. In a nut shell, Cancellation – is before you even board or depart your country of residence, so you have not had your passport stamped and your passport photo scrutinized, Curtailment – is an interruption to your journey, the skiing incident is an example as I’m sure they had to cut their ski holiday short.

    A valid claim under this particular benefit will be for medical reasons – you suddenly fall ill and you doctor recommends you do not travel alternatively you are already in ward 5A, B and C and wont make your departing flight or for a traumatic reason, Death of an immediate family member – not 4th cousin removed – this would also be valid should the illness of a family member be fragile or touch and go, so you are on your way to the airport and en route your car is struck by another vehicle, you are not injured however the idiot has made you late for your flight and all your friends and the cat have just departed for Seychelles, you are burgled/house has been robbed etc. and you are not too comfortable to vacate your home for that once in a life time exotic beach holiday because the intruders have not been apprehended and they may return or even worse your passport with all valid visas has been swiped and someone is now enjoying the privilege of being you. This is for the comment that to purchase the policy too early gives more time for things to go wrong – so, are you trying to convince us that when you purchase just your airline ticket and all the paraphernalia you require to go on your trip and you ignore purchasing travel insurance that you have a greater chance of nothing going wrong? Hey, I would love to live in that World – anyway – Insurance is generally a grudge purchase as you do not see or feel the value of your purchase, like you would should you purchase a chocolate or and airline ticket.

    My advice is ALWAYS ASK WHAT TRAVEL INSURANCE COVER YOU QUALIFY FOR WHEN purchasing any airline ticket domestic, regional or international with your credit card with your credit card provider or approach a Travel Agent and ask them. Here is South Africa it compulsory for a Travel Agent to offer Travel Insurance to every client/traveler, we run the risk of being liable should we neglect to do so.

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