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    October 2016

    Preparing for Medical Evacuations Abroad

    image: medical evacuation

    Thousands of students participating in international travel programs suffer serious injuries or illnesses each year. In fact, UE’s 2015 claims study found that 22 percent of study abroad claims stemmed from an injury or illness. In serious incidents, students may need medical evacuation services from remote locations or require advanced medical facilities. Institutions are preparing by purchasing medical evacuation coverage and enlisting additional resources.


    Medical evacuations abroad can cost several hundred thousand dollars. Many institutions purchase insurance to defray the costs, but the breadth of coverage offered differs greatly. Institutions purchasing this insurance should understand:

    • Who will do the physical evacuations? Evacuation providers accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Services (CAMTS) are recommended by the U.S. State Department. CAMTS responds to questions about evacuation providers and lists 182 accredited providers on its website. Currently, accredited providers are in all 50 states.
    • Where will travelers be transported? Some policies evacuate sick or injured travelers to the closest advanced medical center, not necessarily the U.S. For example, following an emergency in central Africa, an insurer may only pay for transport to a hospital in South Africa. In a health crisis, travelers often insist on returning to the U.S. to be near friends, family, and preferred doctors. This conflict could put the institution in a difficult position. For recommendations on how institutions can accommodate ill or injured travelers, review At Risk Abroad.
    • Does the policy also cover hospitalization? Like medical evacuation services, hospitalization and medical costs can be expensive. Most U.S. health insurance plans do not cover expenses incurred abroad. Negotiate with travel insurers when possible to cover hospitalization costs. 

    In addition, institutions should read insurance policy exclusions carefully. Epidemics such as Ebola or Zika may not be covered due to the expense and risk of transporting patients. Other policies may exclude certain countries or regions. If medical evacuation coverage is not available for a certain location, consider whether travel to that area is consistent with an institution’s risk tolerance. For more information, review Canceling Study Abroad Programs

    Additional Resources

    Insurance is only one component of risk management. Educational institutions should consider consulting other resources to prepare for medical evacuations abroad, such as:

    • Experienced brokers. Insurance brokers with experience in international travel policies know what to ask insurers and how to negotiate on behalf of the institution. They also know which insurers and providers offer quality customer service and a robust crisis management plan.
    • The U.S. State Department. Local medical and emergency information is available on the website of the embassy or consulate closest to the travel location. An officer from a U.S. embassy or consulate can help locate medical services. Remember that the State Department only assists in an emergency; it does not pay hospitalization or evacuation. 


    Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems
    State Department: Your Health Abroad
    State Department: Insurance Providers for Overseas Coverage
    United Educators: At Risk Abroad

    By Joe Vossen, risk management counsel


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