Travel Insurance in a Changing World

Every time I plan a trip, I revisit the available travel insurance policies.   There is no cookie cutter coverage that will work for every trip.  Each journey has different requirements depending on the destination and the type of trip.  In addition, the offerings and inclusions are constantly changing.  So my favorite policy may no longer be available or the fine print might have changed.  Each trip becomes a study in insurance as well as in the destination, flights, hotels and activities.  Travelling can sometimes be exhausting even before you leave your home.  But like anything, with proper planning, the benefits can be colossal.  You must always be prepared for life’s little glitches such as the occasional change in schedule, a delayed flight, a hotel in the midst of remodeling construction, a closed museum or much anticipated tourist site.  This type of thing is inevitable but you shouldn’t let it disrupt your expectations.  Just forge ahead; sometimes the unexpected becomes the most memorable event of your trip.  But those glitches could also be of a more devastating or catastrophic nature.  For that you must be prepared not just mentally and emotionally, but you must have your safety net:  travel insurance.

As for me, my trips over the past year have been a little closer to home.  I have had some pains in the area where my appendix used to be, so I decided to play it safe and not venture too far.  That didn’t mean that I would travel without insurance however.  Our first destination was Cuba.  Cuba itself requires that visitors purchase Cuban health insurance as a part of their entry package.  In a land of socialized medicine, you essentially become one of them.  I did, however, purchase an additional policy that would cover the tour costs, should anything happen.  I typically do not consider the “cancel for any reason” coverage because I most likely would not cancel unless it were due to health reasons.  But if you are a person with a lot of family or work commitments, cancel for any reason might be on the top of your priority list.  Though Cuba is near to the USA and flights are relatively easy now, if there were a medical crisis, getting home could still be difficult.  So I purchased a basic plan with trip cancellation/interruption coverage, medical and medical evacuation.  I didn’t feel that I needed non-medical evacuation due to security or catastrophe reasons.  Of course you never know, but sometime you have to play the odds.  You can just as easily have something happen in your own back yard, so purchasing the right travel insurance is sometimes a numbers game and you have to weigh all of the possibilities and probabilities.  As it turned out, I got bronchitis just before we left Miami for Cuba.  When you arrive in Cuba, the “medical inspectors” are out in force at the immigration area.  They are looking for anyone with a contagious disease or suspicious health issues.  If they encounter something, they will deny you entry.  So I had to suppress my cough which turned out to be a difficult 45-minute feat.  I managed to get through immigrations but after a day of touring, I felt worse and realized that I probably had a sinus infection.  Though I generally carry antibiotics with me, I decided to go to the emergency clinic.  I felt that I was now on a mission to compare medical care in different countries.  My tour guide arranged for someone to accompany me.  It was another adventure.  The interesting part for me is that there are no tourists that willingly make their way to these facilities, so the interactions with the locals are quite pure.

As I sat in the waiting room, I observed a lot of young people that seemed to know each other.  We discovered that they were all part of an exchange program with Venezuela.  Cuba invites the troubled and drug-addicted youth that have a desire to be rehabilitated into a long-term program which not only tries to wean them off drugs, but provides them with essential dental and mental health benefits as well as educational opportunities.  Cuba has a good medical system with a lot of highly trained doctors, whose salaries are not much more than that of a restaurant worker or grade school teacher.  They are chosen for this path and trained free of charge.  In return, they dedicate their lives to helping their compatriots.

I waited for quite a while for the doctor.  It turned out that after her last patient, she was hungry and decided to break for lunch.  So we waited patiently.  When I finally got in to see her, it was a lengthy process.  The doctor had to type all of the information into the computer with no administrative assistance.  Apparently, her medical training did not include typing or computer skills.  Her hunt and peck, one-fingered entries were extremely time-consuming.  Plus, she had never treated an American before and was unsure how to handle the Cuban insurance which covered me.  Luckily, my guide was able to provide her with phone numbers to speed up the process.  We finally got through the exam.  She wrote out the prescriptions which included Vitamin C, a decongestant and an antibiotic.  I told her that I didn’t need the vitamins.  I was sure there were people that needed them more than I did.  But she insisted.  She then accompanied me to the pharmacy where I signed the necessary documents and was released with my bag of medications.  No money exchanged hands.  Everything was covered.  And that apparently is the way it is for all Cubans.  My encounter with socialized medicine seemed to be a breeze.

Another person on our trip fell and hurt his leg.  He was put in a cast and opted to fly home two days early.  He and his wife said that they don’t usually buy insurance…they self-insure.  I guess that means that you gamble on the cost of possible injuries being less than the insurance itself.  And that, of course, can be true.   But peace of mind to me is worth the investment.  In their case, the only loss was the rebooking of the flight.  The local treatment was included in the Cuban medical coverage that was mandatory before entering the country.  Plus our trip was almost over, so loss of the remainder of the trip was not a great sacrifice.  Hopefully their luck will continue for future trips and they will never require medical evacuation.

Our next trip was to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.  Again, we were quite close to home and not concerned about security evacuations.  I decided to buy a yearly policy through TravelGuard, my life-saver company.  It was quite reasonable and just covers the basics with minimal medical coverage plus medical evacuation.  Of course, if we travel to anyplace more exotic, isolated or dangerous, I will get additional trip-specific coverage.  In today’s political climate, security evacuation is high on my list of necessities for many areas of the world.

My last trip was to New York (I’m from California).  I did not get any additional coverage.  My regular health coverage should have covered me for nearly any situation.  But soon I will be venturing a little further from home once again.  That means revisiting my possible insurance options and what might fit with the kind of trip that I will be on.  Each time I leave the country, hours of research are required to keep up on the available travel insurance policies.  I think that they are changing faster than ever right now.  Our world has become more uncertain and our risks are ever-increasing.  Research and diligence are more important than ever.