The value of travel insurance

Young South African volunteer discovers the value of travel insurance as dream holiday turns into nightmare

Mother’s parting gift preserves the use of son’s leg and saves millions

When 23-year-old South African, Dean Stephenson, headed off to California on a dream work-placement, as a volunteer ski and snowboard instructor for differently abled and cognitively challenged people, he never, even considered travel insurance.

Fortunately, Dean’s mother, Sandy Stephenson, was sensible enough to buy Dean a R20 million travel insurance policy from Old Mutual Insure. As a parting gift she emailed thetravelsure cover, policy number with all the emergency details to Dean, who barely glanced at these in the inbox on his mobile phone.

A broken tibia on holiday leads to a R1 million medical bill

A few months into his trip Dean broke his tibia, just below the left knee, in a snowboarding accident. While the pain was incredible, ski patrol personnel from an adjacent resort saw the accident and were able to get Dean to their mini clinic. The clinic alerted Dean’s Manager who was able to drive him to the local hospital.

Immediately on arrival in emergency, Dean was placed on a drip administering painkillers. Overwhelmed by pain and drugs, the last thing he remembered was finding the travel insurance email from his mom on his phone. When Dean came around from an extensive operation including reconstructive surgery involving taking bone from another part of his lower leg and fusing this to his smashed tibia, all the admission, payment and discharge details had been managed.

Dean’s surgeon had provided the details of Dean’s Old Mutual Insure’s travel insurance policy to the hospital administration staff who duly contacted his mother, as next of kin, in South Africa. Over the four days and three nights that Dean was in hospital undergoing a US$ 77 000 (almost one million rand) procedure, the hospital administration staff in California, with his mother and Old Mutual Insure in South Africa, settled all costs in terms of the policy.

Why travel insurance is an invaluable travelling partner

Dean was released from hospital without having to pay a cent. Despite the time zone difference, the fact that he was in an American hospital being billed in US$ while  his policy was bought in South Africa in Rands, and that he was unconscious for the entire time, all the details were efficiently settled and accepted by the time Dean needed to leave the hospital.

While Dean still had several months of extensive physical therapy ahead of him, which is not covered by the specific policy, he was able to return to a desk job at the volunteer ski and snowboard program, seeing out the term of his volunteer contract.

Although Dean did not need an ambulance since his employer drove him to the hospital, ambulance costs were included in his Old Mutual Insurance travel insurance policy. While most travel insurance policies include rescue and ambulance services anywhere in the world this is still something to check as a large part of the final bill is often made up of rescue, ambulance and travel costs.

Lesson learned

Back in South Africa and contemplating his next adventure, this time in Dubai, Dean can’t believe how fortunate he was that his mother purchased a ZAR 20 million travel insurance policy that ended up allowing him access to and professional surgery in an American private hospital. Dean also shudders at the thought of what could have happened if he didn’t have the cover, wasn’t admitted, or was faced with a US$ 77 0000 bill.

The lesson here is that, the best travel gift you can buy – either for yourself, a loved one or a friend – is in fact travel insurance. A few hundred Rands can be the difference between receiving a life-preserving procedure, being turned away from a hospital or being held liable for millions of rands of treatment in foreign countries with punitive exchange rates.