PHOTO: Kimberly Seay, Director of Assistance at Allianz Global Assistance - USA. (Photo courtesy of Allianz)
Kim Seay, Allianz Global Assistance’s director of assistance, is a former emergency room and trauma nurse who most recently served as chief flight nurse for an air ambulance provider. Kim manages Allianz’s case load of 400 medical evacuations and 3,000 requests for medical help from customers each year.
She spoke with TravelPulse recently about the real-life health and safety risks travelers face.
TP: We tend to think of travel insurance as something that is seldom used. How often does the company deal with a medical evacuation or other serious situation involving travelers each year?
KS: In 2016, our assistance department received approximately 6,500 requests for general travel assistance, 3600 were requests for help with a medical emergency or medical issues. We arranged over 500 medical transportations in 2016 for seriously injured customers. We handled 55,290 inbound calls and placed 56,970 outbound calls.
TP: Is there something common to these events? Or are they mainly random things that can happen to anyone?
KS: The most frequent diagnosis we see are CVA’s (strokes), myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), trauma/fractures sustained from falls, motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents, high-risk activities, robberies, pulmonary (pneumonia, pneumothorax, asthma) and gastroenteritis (vomiting, diarrhea causing dehydration).
TP: What is the general cost estimate, in dollars, for being airlifted back to the US from different countries?
KS: For South America, the cost ranges from $45,000 to $100,000; Germany, $50,000 to $90,000; France, $50,000 to $90,000; Italy, $60,000 to $100,000; Spain, $60,000 to $100,000; Russia, $90,000 to $150,000; the Middle East, $120,000 to $180,000; Asia, $150,000 to $200,000 and Australia costs from $150,000 to $220,000.
TP: How many US travelers that purchased travel insurance policies in 2017 and 2016?
KS: We’re unable to provide hard numbers, but sales of travel insurance in 2016 were up 15% over sales in 2015.
TP: Why do you think the numbers are increasing?
KS: Travel agents are educating their clients about the importance of Travel Insurance and the clients understand that Travel Insurance brings peace of mind, knowing we are here for them 24/7, anywhere they are and can help them with many of the things they may need.
TP: How would you describe the risk travelers are taking by not purchasing travel insurance before a significant trip? What potential dangers are they facing?
KS: They are risking paying out of pocket for medical expenses and transport expenses which can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. They are risking a potential negative outcome related to a medical situation should they not have the funds available to obtain treatment (they could be denied treatment, sent to a public hospital or have their passport held to guarantee payment.
I worked an international air evacuation where the healthcare facility felt that it was still owed money and the local police surrounded the plane that had the critical patient aboard and would not allow the plane to take off until the bill was paid in full.
TP: What is the minimum insurance coverage a traveler should have?
KS: This question varies depending on where folks are traveling in the world and ultimately ‘how much they can afford to lose’ should they need to cancel a trip or experience a serious medical emergency.
I would recommend a policy that covers 100 percent of their non-refundable travel deposits and provides a sufficient amount of medical coverage to make them confident to travel. An annual policy is a great option for people who travel frequently.
TP: What should travelers do if they get sick or have a medical emergency while traveling?
KS: If they are having a medical emergency they should initiate that country’s “911” services. It’s important to note that “911” is not a universal number and travelers should be familiar with emergency numbers where they’re traveling. Our TravelSmart app provides a list of emergency numbers for almost every country.
If it is not an emergency issue, they should call their travel assistance provider so they can assist them in finding an appropriate facility, assist with direct billing if needed, provide monitoring for their situation, evaluate the facility they’re in for appropriate care and help get them home if needed.
TP: What if travelers are in a car accident while traveling?
KS: They should seek emergency care if they have serious injuries. If it is not life-threatening, they should call their travel assistance provider and be referred to an appropriate facility if medical care is needed.
In addition, just as you would here in the US, you’ll want to obtain the other parties information, vehicle information (registration, license plates, etc.), exchange insurance information and contact local authorities.
TP: What if luggage or other belongings are stolen while traveling?
KS: They should report the theft immediately to their airline, hotel or other travel provider and file a police report and obtain a copy. Travel assistance services can guide them on how to report the theft and how to proceed with replacing their items, including a stolen passport. Travel insurance can also help pay to replace stolen items, so they should contact their insurer for instructions on filing a claim.