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Emergency medical treatment and repatriation


Why does travel insurance matter?

Medical emergencies and repatriation is one of the most common, and expensive, reasons for travel insurance claims. They are also the most important reason for taking out cover.



Many countries have very limited public health services, and the quality of the medical treatment available without payment can be poor. Costs in some countries (particularly North America) can be extremely high. Even treatment for a simple condition, such as a twisted ankle, can cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds.


Did you know?
£2,040 – average cost for medical treatment overseas. (21)



Examples of the most common illnesses requiring medical treatment while abroad (22) include:

• Stomach upsets
• Ear infections
• Allergies
• Heart problems


Did you know?
£9,000 – cost of treating a woman who suffered a severe allergic reaction while holidaying in Cyprus. (23)



1 EHIC cover is limited

Many people believe that when travelling in the European Economic Area or Switzerland they only need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as this will cover the costs of treatment in EU state hospitals. While it is important to carry your EHIC card at all times, this is not quite correct as it will only provide the same level of benefit that residents of that country receive and will not cover repatriation.



The level of benefit provided by the EHIC therefore varies from country to country and some costs associated with food or accommodation may not be covered. In some countries residents pay a percentage of any medical bills themselves. Relying on the EHIC in those countries will result in paying the same percentage and relying on friends or family to bring you food, change bedding etc. Remember in an emergency situation the closest hospital may be ‘private’ or you may have no control over the hospital you are taken to by ambulance.


Did you know?
£49,000 – cost of a coronary artery bypass and an emergency flight home for a holidaymaker taken ill in the USA. (24)



If you carry an EHIC while on holiday, many travel insurers will waive the policy excess on any claim where it is used. If you are travelling within the European Economic Area or Switzerland you can register for an EHIC, entitling you to some reduced or free emergency care – apply online via the EHIC website.


2 Foreign Office consular assistance will not pay your costs

It is also important to remember that the British Embassy or High Commission will not pay for any medical expenses or repatriation costs.


What does travel insurance cover?

It is important to be sure that you have full cover for emergency medical costs and other associated costs.

Medical emergencies that travel insurance policies do cover include:

• Unforeseen illness, injury or accident.

• Repatriation to the UK where the time required to recover from the medical problem results in missing a booked flight home. This would also include the cost of stretcher, costs for a doctor or nurse to escort you home, and space on a chartered plane or air ambulance, if medically necessary. Remember, even if you have an arm or leg in plaster, you may need an additional seat on a flight home, and that will add to the cost.

• Temporary emergency dental treatment for the relief of immediate pain.

• In the event of death, travel insurance covers the costs of burial or cremation abroad or bringing the body home. The insurer can also provide help and support in making all the necessary arrangements through an international funeral director.


Medical emergencies that might be covered include sports and activities classed as high risk. Some may be covered at no additional cost, some may only be covered when you pay an additional premium and others may not be covered at all.


Medical emergencies that policies do not cover include:

• Claims relating to existing medical conditions that have not been declared and accepted by the insurer. Some policies operate on the basis of providing no cover for existing medical conditions. Other policies require you to contact a medical screening service to make a health declaration. An additional premium may be required to cover some medical conditions.

• Medical costs arising from injuries sustained due to the insured requiring medical attention as a result of consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, behaving irresponsibly or taking unnecessary risks. You are on holiday so drinking a reasonable amount of alcohol is not excluded.

• Cover for medical bills if the policyholder chooses to stay abroad after the treating doctor agrees with the insurance company doctor that they are fit to return home.

• Medical conditions connected to your failure to take your prescribed medication or get vaccinations and other preventative measures (such as malaria tablets) advised for the country being visited.


1 Travel and accommodation costs

If you or a member of your family falls ill or has an accident abroad, it is not just medical costs that can be an issue. There may be additional travel or accommodation costs for a family member or friend to stay with you. Ski insurance policies might cover these costs and any additional costs incurred in getting children home if their parents cannot accompany them.


2 Assistance

Travel insurance policies do provide 24-hour assistance help lines than can provide you with help and support at any time. They have staff trained to deal with hospitals and doctors abroad in the local language. If you are sick or injured, having a friendly, English speaking voice on the end of a phone line to help you can make all the difference.

It is common for policies to require you to contact your assistance company as soon as possible when medical bills are likely to exceed a fixed amount, such as £500.


3 Helpful tips

Policyholders should check that emergency medical costs are fully covered by a policy and if any medical conditions need to be disclosed, everything should be declared.

Find out if any vaccinations or medication are advised for your destination well before you travel by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website.


(21) Sainsbury’s Finance, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/sep/11/travel-insurance-european-holiday

(22) Ibid.

(23) Ibid.

(24) £5.3 million a week - travel insurers helping record number of people falling ill while abroad. ABI, July 2010.
_of_people_falling_ill_while_abroad_.aspx [Accessed: 13/10/10]


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