Travel Insurance is a Contract: Read It

You don’t need to hire a lawyer to buy travel insurance. It may appear complicated.  But if you follow a few simple rules you can find the right policy for your specific needs without having to be afraid that your claim is going to be denied if you have an emergency abroad.

First of all, understand that travel insurance is a contract between two parties—you and the insurer. But it’s the insurer’s lawyers that approve the language in the policy and their first duty is to protect the insurer. That doesn’t mean they are out to cheat you. That would be bad business.  But it means that you have a duty to protect yourself by understanding what it is you are buying.

How do you do that?

First of all: read your policy—at least certain parts of it.  Nobody—not even the lawyers who parsed every phrase and comma in the boilerplate–expect you to do that.  Your eyes would drop out. And despite constant pleas to use plain language in these policies, the lawyers prefer to use their own language.

Read what benefits you are due.  That’s easy.  Insurer’s like to boast about what they offer. That’s the easy part.

But also read the Exclusions and Limitations.  Because travel insurance is supplemental to your government health insurance, and because it is designed only for unexpected, unforeseen emergencies, it has to specify what it will not cover. This is particularly important if you have some pre-existing conditions—even though they may be stable and under control—or are on medication for chronic but manageable conditions such as high blood pressure. And then read certain how the insurer defines the key words such as Pre-existing condition, or Stable, or Controlled. It’s the insurer’s definition that counts, not yours or your doctor’s or your dictionary’s.

Read what your own obligations are.  What are your responsibilities in notifying the insurer’s assistance company if you have an emergency in a foreign country?  Most require you to contact the assistance service as soon as possible after an emergency occurs—certainly within 24 hours. And if it’s not a life and death emergency—call them ahead of time for assistance if it is practicable. But if it’s a 911 matter—call 911 first and only then call your insurer.

Always carry your insurance card with the contact numbers for the assistance service with you. It’s not enough to just have a number and a name. Hospitals around the world require documentary proof you have insurance.  It’s best, also, to carry your complete policy.  It’s not that heavy.

And if completing a medical questionnaire as part of your application, be precise, accurate, complete. If you have any conditions for which you are undergoing tests or referrals or are under any kind of clinical investigation, tell your insurer. In case of a claim, that questionnaire will be closely scrutinized as will your doctor’s medical records—perhaps for years back.  And if there’s a discrepancy, your claim could be denied.  This is not a game of gotcha.  The medical underwriters have to know your true medical status.  That’s your part of the contract. And if you’re in doubt about any medication you are taking, or any test you are about to take, talk to your doctor and ask for his or her help in completing the questionnaire. If you have to pay: pay.  It’s cheaper than paying thousands to a hospital if your claim is denied.

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