My Life as a Traveler

Alaska Cruise, Day at Sea, Part 3 or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Travel Insurance, But Were Afraid to Ask

As I lay in my hospital bed on the cruise ship waiting for blood and watching the fluids drip, Dr. Dylan comes in for a chat. This chat was not about my health, nor about my well-being (not to dis him, he did already cover those things that morning), but about the upcoming bill. If you recall, just to see the doc for a moment to prescribe medication for seasickness was quoted at $80. My bill would be several thousand. That hurt almost as much as anything else.

Medical services are not included in the cruise fare and must be paid before leaving the ship. I’m not sure exactly what the consequences are for non-payment. Would they keep me on board if I can’t pay or take me to court when I’m too weak to walk? So, how do you avoid these humongous charges? Same way you do when you’re at home. You get insurance. But for traveling, you need special insurance, as your regular insurance very possibly won’t cover you on the road, in a foreign country, or on a ship.

When you book a cruise or a tour, the company that is providing the service usually has an offer for insurance. Princess Cruises calls theirs the Vacation Protection Plan. For about 8% of the cruise fare, you would avoid their 100% cancellation fees if you couldn’t make the trip due to illness (yours or traveling companions, or of anyone’s family members), accident on the way to the cruise that would cause you to miss the cruise, hurricane or flood, or jury duty. The insurance also covers any medical charges while on the trip, whether it’s evacuation or care from the ship’s infirmary. It covers pretty much everything. No worries. Just accept treatment and know that whatever they have to do, it’s paid for.

Did I get insurance? Well, no.

When I worked as a travel agent, I always recommended insurance. I mean, who wants to have something happen to you while traveling and come home to thousands of dollars worth of medical bills that your insurance may or may not cover? Getting insurance is the smart thing to do.

Do I ever get insurance? Well, no.

I pride myself that I’m in pretty good shape health-wise and I really rarely get sick. Of course, with all the traveling that I’ve done, I’ve been hit by a bad bug here and there. Memorable bugs include: a nasty three-day stomach virus in Seattle, a bad cold in Frankfurt, a fever in Toulouse, and a strained shoulder from a bad fall skiing in Switzerland. Usually I just lay low in the hotel room, limit the diet, and in a day or two, I’m better, and, except for that cute Swiss doctor who gave me an x-ray and a sling for my arm (total cost, about $50), I have never needed any medical care.

Dr. Dylan wanted to know if I had travel insurance. When I told him no, he looked a little pained and told me to think, really think, if I had any type of coverage, somewhere. He said, most health insurance plans do not cover expenses at sea. I will be liable for the whole kit and kaboodle unless I can find some insurance, any insurance that might cover this several thousand dollar situation.

Well, I do have credit cards that offer certain kinds of insurance. Maybe they will come through. I did call American Express, Citibank, Langley Visa, and Capitol One to see if their coverage applied in my situation. The good news was that the doc allowed me to call them for free (phone calls on cruise ships run around $15/minute) from my hospital bed. The bad news was that none of their coverages covered me.

Including doctor consults, IVs, blood tests, procurement, and transfusion costs, plus a charge for every little thing from catheter tube ($120) to AIDS testing ($100 for every test, every hour), the total bill was over $8000, and had to be paid before I left the ship.

Thank goodness for American Express.

In retrospect, should I have opted for the insurance? Well, duh, yeah. But I look at it this way. If I had sprung for the insurance every time I traveled, say, conservatively, five times a year over the past 30 years, at an average of $75 per trip, that would come to $11,250. Still more than what I was charged here, and there is still the possibility that my home insurance will come through for at least part of it.

And just in case you were wondering, it looks like my good old Aetna regular health insurance is going to reimburse 90% of it, even the cruise ship part, despite what the good Dr. Dylan had to say.

So, I’ve got blood, I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m asking them if I can just go back up to    my room and rest it out for a day or two, heck, even the rest of the cruise so I can see Glacier Bay. They laughed, saying that my hemoglobin was still only at 9 and there was still that pesky chance of kidney failure to worry about until I made more blood cells that would conquer that. They just weren’t equipped to handle something that serious. Tomorrow we stop at Ketchikan and they are booting me off the boat.

I’m very disappointed.

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