True Travel Insurance Review Story – Surgery in the Dominican Republic

Today, I have a great article written by my sister-in-law and editor, Ariel Gardner. She is sharing her travel insurance review story, and goes in-depth on the travel insurance process. I asked her to write about this because I feel like it’s not really discussed, yet there is a lot to learn! You may have seen her here before talking about taking her side hustle full-time, living in a small house, real life frugality, and more.

Earlier this year, I was enjoying myself on a relaxing Caribbean cruise with one of my best friends.

I had breakfast delivered to my room every morning, drank fancy cocktails in the evening, and barely thought about the travel insurance policy I bought just in case.

On the fourth day of our cruise, we docked in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and disembarked to explore the city. Our group ended up at Fortaleza Ozama, a Spanish fort built in 1502.

We walked up four or five flights of stairs to get a view from the top, and on the first step back down, I fell and broke my leg.

It wasn’t a major fall.

But I twisted my leg in just the right way to end up with a spiral fracture that broke several bones in my ankle, my tibia, and fibula. 

There was so much chaos as we figured out how to handle everything, from whether or not to have surgery in the Dominican Republic and how to fly my husband down.

On top of everything, this was at the beginning of March 2020, just as the U.S. and many other countries were shutting their borders down because of COVID-19.

The impressive Fortaleza Ozama. 

My travel insurance policy went from an afterthought to a necessity as I racked up more than $10,000 of out-of-pocket medical costs and unexpected travel expenses in just a couple of days.

Eight months after this whole ordeal began, I’ve finally got closure. My travel insurance claims are paid, and I had my last visit with the surgeon who fixed my leg with a metal rod and seven screws.

I learned so much about the travel insurance process over these past few months, and I was excited when Michelle asked me to share my experience. 

My biggest takeaway from it all? I will always buy travel insurance when traveling out of the country, and I’m about to explain why.

Related content:

My True Travel Insurance Review Story & Why You Should Consider Travel Insurance

The cost and details of my travel insurance plan

You can expect travel insurance to cost 5%-10% of your total trip cost. The cost largely depends on what kind of coverage you want, where you’re traveling, length and cost of trip, and your age. 

I decided to purchase a travel insurance plan through Generali Global Assistance because they had high ratings and offered the kind of plan I wanted. 

For $142.68 my trip would be covered under Generali’s Preferred Plan, which offered the following coverage limits:

  • Trip cancellation: 100% of trip cost
  • Trip interruption: 150% of trip cost
  • Travel delay: $1,000 per person
  • Baggage loss: $1,500 per person
  • Sporting equipment: $1,500 per person
  • Sporting equipment delay: $300 per person
  • Missed connection: $750 per person
  • Medical & dental: $150,000 per person
  • Emergency assistance & transportation: $500,000 per person
  • Accidental death & dismemberment (air flight accident): $75,000 per person/$150,000 per plan
  • Accidental death & dismemberment (travel accident): $25,000 per person/$50,000 per plan

There were a few aspects of this plan that I was really concerned about, including trip cancellation and interruption. I was leaving for a cruise as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting the U.S., and there was a real possibility something might happen to my travel plans.

Cruising at the start of a global pandemic wasn’t an awesome idea, but luckily no one on our ship showed signs or tested positive for COVID-19 after getting back to the states.

My plan offered “cancel for any reason” coverage for trip cancellation and interruption. This is the most comprehensive kind of coverage – you’re reimbursed for a portion of your costs no matter what your reasons are – but it’s a little more expensive. 

Medical coverage wasn’t a huge priority to me because I assumed the chances of getting hurt were pretty slim. This is laughable now.

Despite feeling like medical coverage wasn’t necessary, the reason I got travel insurance (with higher medical coverage) was because of a story an acquaintance told me a few years earlier.

This woman had gone on a 10-day cruise in the Mediterranean, and her esophagus spontaneously ruptured a few days into the cruise. This is an incredibly serious condition that will result in death if it’s not immediately treated.

When the cruise ship doctor realized what was happening, they ordered a helicopter to medivac her to the closest hospital. I can’t remember which country she ended up in, but between surgery, complications, and recovery, she ended up in the hospital for two months.

She paid $450 for a premium travel insurance plan, and it covered all of the $1,000,000+ expenses she incurred. From health care, medivac, trip interruption costs, and flights back and forth for her husband.

With that story stuck in my head, my worst-case-scenario mindset kicked in and told me to buy travel insurance for my cruise.

What my travel insurance actually covered

I’ve broken my ankle before and the treatment is pretty straightforward and easy. Slap a boot on your leg and be on your way. This break was worse, and being in a foreign country complicated things.

First of all, I sustained an open fracture. That means my tibia bone broke through my skin, which puts you at risk of infection. Had it been a closed break, maybe I could have gotten back on the cruise ship, had the onboard doctor set my leg, and cruise back on painkillers until I got home.

Open fractures need to be treated with surgery as soon as possible so the wound can be cleaned out. Surgery meant that I would not be getting back on the cruise ship. 

There was a lot of debate about where to take me – the Dominican Republic has a very different health system. It was decided that the best care would come from a private clinic. 

The clinic required a deposit of 80,000 Dominican Pesos (DOP) before I could be treated. The exchange rate varies day-to-day, but this equals $1,369 at the time of writing.

I was put on an IV drip for antibiotics, given IV painkillers, was x-rayed, had an electrocardiogram, and was prepped for surgery. The surgery to clean out the wound was quick, but it still required anesthesia. 

The surgeon said I also needed an ORIF (open reduction internal fixation) to fix my leg. This is where they fix your break with a rod and screws. It’s not a complicated surgery, but after talking with some people back home, and with a doctor friend who was traveling in our group, we decided it was best to wait until I was back in the U.S. for the ORIF surgery. 

After the surgery to clean out the wound, the surgeon ordered me to stay in the clinic for two days before it was safe for me to fly home. I spent that visit on more IV antibiotics and painkillers. After the deposit was applied to the total, my stay was another 357,000 DOP or $6,110.

Between just having surgery and the fact that my broken leg wasn’t fully fixed, I couldn’t just fly home by myself. The surgeon in the Dominican Republic said I needed a travel companion to help me fly home, so my husband booked a flight and came out the day after my surgery. His flight was $400.

The surgeon ordered two things to fly home safely: an ambulance to transfer me to the hospital and first-class flights home to give me enough room for my bandaged leg. Side note: this was the first time I’ve ever flown first class, and I’d love to do it again when I can appreciate it. At least my husband got to enjoy the complimentary Bloody Marys.

Those tickets weren’t cheap. Not only was it first class, it was a last minute, one-way flight at the start of a global pandemic. We paid $1,275 for each ticket.

The ambulance ride to the airport was 7,600 DOP or $130. We paid the drivers in cash plus a tip. They were amazing, by the way. Neither of them spoke English and we don’t speak Spanish, so we spent the 30 minute drive communicating via Google Translate.

Because I was wheelchair-bound at this point, we would need more time in the airport, and our ambulance ride was going slower than expected. The driver knew we were pressed for time and drove over the grassy median into oncoming traffic to get us to the airport in time. Probably not the safest move, but it worked.

They were so sweet and even wanted to take a picture with us because, as they said, “You’ll want to remember this day!” 

Omg, the compression sock and three-day old outfit is a look. What you can’t see is that I was also traveling with a catheter in because I was completely immobilized. Definitely won’t forget that day!

Between my husband’s flight to the Dominican Republic, our first-class tickets home, and the ambulance ride, that was an additional $3,080.

Here’s what travel insurance covered from those costs:

  • $1,369 deposit for the clinic
  • $6,110 for surgery and hospital stay
  • $2,550 for two flights home to the U.S.

=$10,029 total costs reimbursed

Travel insurance didn’t cover my husband’s $400 flight to the Dominican Republic – they said it wasn’t part of emergency assistance and transportation. Their reasoning was that someone already in the Dominican Republic could have flown home with me.

We also claimed $200 for the flight I would have taken home from Florida after the cruise, and this was denied too because I paid for it with credit card points. Some travel insurance offers reimbursements for points, but Generali’s plan didn’t. We tried to claim it knowing they might deny it.

The other cost travel insurance denied was the $130 ambulance ride from the clinic to the airport. The problem was that the receipt wasn’t dated. 

That’s $730 that I wasn’t reimbursed for.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the cost of the cruise and getting reimbursed for the part of the trip I wasn’t able to take. Long story short, my friend was part of the cruise’s entertainment and the organizers covered my ticket because I was going as her guest. 

The cruise organizers have their own insurance to deal with that claim. Had I paid for the cruise, then I would have submitted that loss to my travel insurance company. Make sense?

All in all, my $142.68 travel insurance policy saved me more than $10,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

Will my health insurance cover medical costs when I travel?

It’s unlikely that your domestic health insurance plan will cover medical care outside of the U.S. If your plan does cover anything, it will only be for very, very emergent situations. 

For example, my broken leg was a serious enough injury that I needed emergency surgery in a foreign country. I had to leave my friends and my belongings on the cruise ship and stay in a hospital for two days.

My health insurance company (Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield) did not consider this an emergency situation – it was only deemed urgent. 

This is how my insurance company describes emergency care: if the injury is severe enough that it places “the Member’s physical and or mental health in serious jeopardy; serious impairment to bodily functions; or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.”

I recommend calling your health insurance company and asking about their policy on international travel, but realize that it probably won’t offer the kind of coverage you’re looking for.

What about the travel protections offered by my credit card?

Not all credit cards come with travel protections, but some of the more popular travel cards (like the Chase Sapphire cards and American Express Platinum card) do offer it. Important point: you will have to book your trip using that card to qualify for coverage.

The other thing about the coverage that comes with your credit card is that it’s fairly limited when you compare it to third-party travel insurance. 

The most common kind of coverage through your credit card is for baggage delays, trip delays, trip interruption, emergency trip cancellation, accidental death and dismemberment, and auto rental collision damage cover.

But you probably won’t get the kind of coverage you need if you, say, break your leg in the Dominican Republic.

I have three credit cards that are considered travel cards, and none of them would have covered what my travel insurance did.

The Points Guy has a really good article that explains more: When to Buy Travel Insurance vs. When to Rely on Credit Card Protections.

What about flight insurance?

Most airlines offer a limited form of travel insurance, and limited is key.

I’m sure you’ve seen the pop up when you enter your payment information for your flights. Something like, “Do you want to spend $25 on coverage to protect your flight from cancellation or delays?” 

Seems like a good deal, and I’ve bought it before when I didn’t understand what it covers. The coverage airlines offer does not include medical care, lost luggage, and it’s not “cancel for any reason” coverage. 

When should you buy travel insurance?

You now know that you can’t rely on your health insurance in a foreign country, your credit card doesn’t offer comprehensive coverage, and flight insurance is meh

That’s why I highly recommend travel insurance if you’re traveling out of the United States. Experts will offer the same advice for these reasons:

1.You’re concerned about medical expenses

Travel medical insurance is similar to your domestic health insurance, and it’s honestly the main reason experts recommend travel insurance. Without it, a medical emergency in a foreign country could devastate your finances. Most policies have limitations for pre-existing conditions, but you can shop around and find coverage for pre-existing conditions.

2. You want coverage for your baggage and personal belongings

It’s not uncommon to travel with some pretty expensive stuff. It adds up quickly when you think about the combined value of your laptop, tablet, cell phone, camera, jewelry, etc. 

Travel insurance may cover these things if they’re lost or damaged. I say “may” because most policies expect that you’re not being reckless with your belongings. For example, you’re not leaving your laptop unattended in the hotel lobby. 

You should ask about high-value things like your wedding rings because there will be some limitations to the coverage. Better yet, leave your expensive jewelry at home.

Some policies have additional coverage for things like golf clubs, ski equipment, and hunting or fishing gear. They might even offer coverage if you miss days for skiing or golfing, or even pay for rental gear if yours is lost or delayed in transit.

3. You’re an adventurous traveler

There are risks with all kinds of travel – my husband cut off the tip of his finger during a relaxing beach vacation in the Bahamas, and he was only chopping green onions. But there are some kinds of vacations where you’ll encounter more risks.

Hiking through the jungle, ziplining, parasailing, surfing, caving, etc., those are all things that can increase your chances of getting hurt. World Nomads is one of a few travel insurance companies that covers extreme sports.

4. You want to be able to cancel your trip for any reason

Things come up. Maybe you didn’t apply for your passport soon enough, your pet gets sick, you have a financial emergency, you’re traveling during a global pandemic, etc. If you want the option to cancel your trip for any reason, travel insurance can help. 

I’ve said this already, but not all policies are considered “cancel for any reason” or CFAR. Most CFAR policies don’t cover 100% of your prepaid and nonrefundable travel expenses – it’s more like 50% to 75%. 

These policies are more expensive and cover less than people expect, so do your research. Most companies offer CFAR as an add-on, but they’re expensive and cover less than people expect. 

5. You might need to come home early

A friend of mine had to leave his honeymoon early because his new father-in-law landed in the hospital with a life threatening illness. It’s a good thing they came home because the father-in-law passed away a few days after they got back. Travel insurance reimbursed him for the rest of his honeymoon and their last-minute plane tickets.

All in all, travel insurance is peace of mind. You can’t control what happens, but you can reduce a lot of the financial stress associated with emergency scenarios.

Traveling with travel insurance

Before you leave for your trip, make sure you have your travel insurance policy printed and stored somewhere you can easily access. It should stay on you when you’re away from your hotel, cruise ship, etc.

Because I didn’t have my policy on me, someone had to go back to the cruise ship, find it, and bring it back. 

It’s also not a bad idea to send a copy of your policy plus your itinerary to someone back home. They can quickly hop on the claims process without needing to get login information or policy numbers from you.

What to expect when you file a travel insurance claim

I won’t lie, dealing with the claims process was extremely frustrating. My husband was super stressed waiting for us to be reimbursed for our out-of-pocket expenses. He called and emailed every couple of weeks to make sure things were still moving forward.

We had to re-submit paperwork twice, our entire claim was denied the first time (I will explain why in a minute), and it took a full seven months before our claim was paid.

What I didn’t realize is that what we went through is more common than you would expect. Travel insurance companies are very specific with how they accept paperwork and the process for filing claims. 

Here’s what you need to know about the claims process:

  • File your claim ASAP. This gets the ball rolling, you’ll be fresh on the details, and most companies require you to submit claims within a 90-day window.
  • Everything needs to be submitted electronically. You’ll have to take pictures of your receipts or scan them. Pictures need to be crystal clear (this is why I had to resubmit paperwork). 
  • Medical claims need to go to your health insurance company first. Because your health insurance might cover the expenses, you’ll need to submit it to them first. My travel insurance claim was denied at first because we didn’t have an official denial from my health insurance company.
  • Keep any document related to your travel costs or emergency expenses. Even if it seems redundant or useless, keep it. A handwritten note in broken English is why insurance covered our expensive flights home, and we almost didn’t submit it.
  • Your claim will take longer than you expect to process. It can take a minimum of three months for your claim to be processed, and this feels like forever if you’re waiting to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs.

I know it’s hard, but be patient. You can always email your claims agent if you have questions or want to be reassured that they’re working on your claim.

Should you buy travel insurance?

Moving forward, I will always be buying travel insurance when I leave the country. It’s an extra expense we’ll have to budget for and build into the total cost of our vacations. 

What I went through is pretty small, but the majority of our cash savings would have been wiped out without travel insurance. 

It was really scary being injured in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language. You can’t put a price on this, but believing that the majority of my expenses would be covered helped me get through those couple of days until I got home. Okay, painkillers really helped too.

But the point is, travel insurance is peace of mind. Buying it is a choice, but I hope you realize what a beneficial choice it can be in the long run.

Do you usually buy travel insurance? Do you have anything that you’d like me to add to this travel insurance review?

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