About a month ago on a Saturday evening, I received an urgent text message. Call this person! I ended up speaking with a young man, whose father had come to visit him on a simple tourist trip to Israel. Earlier that week, the young man’s father had fallen ill with a serious stomach virus, and suddenly they were in the ER and then the ICU, within 24 hours. His father was unconscious; they couldn’t fix the problem. He also didn’t have traveler’s health insurance. Seven days later, I represented the young man to the accounting department of the hospital to pay the bill, 2 hours after his father’s death. They owed almost 100,000 NIS.
Obviously, this was a case of a rare illness, an even more rare consequence, and a very unexpected outcome. But accidents and illnesses do happen, and they are not so rare. Case in point. A friend of ours had to travel back to the U.S. to visit his sick mother. Within 24 hours of arrival he had a raging fever, and within 48 hours he had been hospitalized with a burst appendix. He is still paying off the $35,000 he owes to the hospital in New York.
I am always asked by people what kind of additional supplemental insurance they should purchase, if at all. Should I get the catastrophic events’ insurance so if I need a liver transplant I can go anywhere in the world for surgery? Should I add helicopter evacuation to my vacation health insurance in case I’m stranded with a broken leg on the Alps?
Insurance purchase is always about benefits vs. risks and these cases are obviously extreme measures of how much a person wants to pay to be “sure” of all events. Those smaller choices are very different, however, than the big decision to purchase regular traveler’s health insurance when you travel out of your home country. On approximately a dollar a day, you, and your children and spouse (must pay for them too), are covered in the event of hospitalization, medication, even a simple medical appointment like seeing an ENT for a burst eardrum (really happened). It is a relatively small fee to pay to cover the very real possibility that you will need foreign medical services when you travel.
If you have a pre-existing condition, like cancer or diabetes, you will have to pay more for a policy and you may not even be eligible. Those are decisions you have to make. But not to purchase at all, if you are otherwise healthy, is not an option, in my opinion.
Just this morning I received a call from a neighbor. She wanted to know where she could take her visiting cousin to be examined because she thought she had strep. “Take her to Terem,” I said, “and just keep the receipt so she can be reimbursed by her traveler’s insurance.” There was a pause and then a sheepish response. “She doesn’t have insurance.”
I hope she reads this post.