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Repatriation costs soar: be very insured

The average cost of claims for repatriating holidaymakers taken ill whilst overseas has exceeded £25,000, according to new research. Those with inadequate insurance, however, have to meet those costs themselves.

An analysis of claims handled by a medical travel insurance specialist  showed that insurers are increasingly having to fork out huge sums to get travellers home, even for apparently minor injuries or ailments. One case, for a broken ankle, led to an 11-day stay in a hospital in Menorca and a claim of £28,000 on return to the UK.

“For travellers that are adequately insured, falling ill abroad – whilst unwelcome – does not have to end in disaster,” says Chris Blackman, Head of Product Development.

“The trouble is that many holidaymakers either don’t take out medical insurance, or don’t read the small-print, and as such can find themselves literally stranded without the means or the finance to get home.”

AllClear analysed the payouts from thousands of claims. Whereas small claims for c£5,000 were commonplace, claims in excess of half a million have also been recorded. “The cost of repatriation varies enormously depending on the country you visit, and of course the condition you suffer,” continues Mr Blackman. “The problem is, if you’re not insured, then you will be liable for the cost.”

Mr Blackman warns that even non-life-threatening accidents can leave tourists in a parlous state when it comes to getting home: “The average cost of repatriation from the USA/Canada/Caribbean, for example would be between £25-30,000, even for something simple such as a broken leg, can be more than £10,000” he says.

“You don’t realise it unless you have been in that position before, or work in the industry, that a serious broken leg or injured back may require a first class seat, possibly two, just to accommodate the immobility and extra room required. Additional to this would be the pay and expenses for a qualified medical practitioner to provide the medical escort and their seat there and back.

“When you look at the cost of short notice scheduled airline bookings, you begin to appreciate that £25,000 is quite conservative even for a straightforward case like this.”

Where a customer needs more intensive medical supervision for the journey, where for example they have suffered a heart, breathing or circulatory problem or even a head injury, there may well be special medical equipment required for the trip such as monitors, intravenous equipment, breathing assistance such as oxygen, nebulisers, etc. and the medical escort could be a doctor or consultant rather than a nurse. “To accommodate this type of medical kit, the airline will normally be required to replace some seats with a medical module so this kind of repatriation will be significantly more costly,” Mr Blackman adds.

A medical repatriation for Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa tends to be less expensive, partly because they are within the range of UK-based air ambulances that would fly out with UK paid medical personnel.

“These aircraft are either purpose built for the task or business style jets such as the Learjet 45 with medical equipment modules.” Mr Blackman adds. “Typically, this kind of repatriation will cost around £15,000 but if the patient has spinal or brain injuries, they may have to fly at sea level cabin pressure and that can double the cost due to the high fuel consumption at lower altitudes and the frequent refuelling stops.”

Medical repatriations from other parts of the world including Australia and New Zealand are typically more in line with the USA costs.

Mr Blackman also highlighted the need for those with existing medical conditions to declare those conditions in advance of their holiday: “Some travellers do not understand the potential consequences of their pre-existing medical conditions,” he adds. “For example, someone who previously suffered some from a heart problem or cancer may say, ‘well if it comes back whilst I’m away, I’ll just get on a plane and come home’.

“This can often end in disaster. If you don’t read the small print you might not be covered and your insurer will be within their rights not to honour the claim because you have not made a full declaration.”

One of the most unusual cases recently involved a man with a history of heart problems who felt unwell and ran up bills of £13,000 just having tests to find out what was wrong. In the end there was nothing wrong with him, but the case demonstrates how doctors will always err on the side of caution for those with a medical history: “Just by having a history of illness can cause treating physicians to be more cautious about discharging a patient without thorough tests and a period of observation, all of which cost money,” Chris concludes. “So those travellers without insurance who think their condition can be controlled with medication could still find themselves facing a massive bill.”

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