Many customers ask: “Does your travel medical insurance cover helicopter ambulance?” Yes, we do! In fact, we have two benefits that cover emergency airlift: the first is ambulance services and the second, emergency air transportation. Here’s the difference…
Emergency Air Ambulance services
Our ambulance services benefit covers ANY licensed emergency medical response service, be it via air, sea or ground. If you’re in a medical emergency, we’ll help you get to the nearest medical facility for immediate care, including air ambulance transportation—usually meaning helicopter ambulance— to the nearest hospital, no matter your location.
Emergency medical response services do not need pre-approval. The same goes if you’re in an accident and you’re taken to the hospital by a helicopter ambulance; no pre-approval is required.
Here’s what it says in our Traveller policy. We cover:
The services of a licensed ambulance and paramedics from the scene of the accident or place of onset of the sickness to the nearest hospital. If an ambulance is medically required but is unavailable, the company will reimburse you for taxi expenses, taxi receipt required.
You won’t find the word “helicopter” in our policy because our policy covers ALL ambulance services, so we cover emergency medical helicopter evacuation too. Our Assistance team is available 24/7 to help you get to the nearest hospital, and we can help arrange or call on several airlift companies to help you. The good news: if you’re in a backcountry situation, you do not need to call us or your insurance broker for pre-approval.
Some of our customers in remote areas, like the jungles of Malaysia or trekkers suffering from altitude sickness, have used this benefit. Take Clara, for example. Clara, had to be air lifted when she fell unconscious with malaria in the jungles of Malaysia. Or, in Daina’s trek in Nepal, emergency ambulance involved both equestrian and air ambulance!
23-year-old Daina experienced respiratory issues, fatigue and nausea ten days into her trekking expedition in Nepal. After being diagnosed and treated for altitude sickness at base camp, she travelled by horse to a suitable altitude and was airlifted to Kathmandu for further care. Her air medical evacuation and horse transportation totaled $5,056.75, which we covered in full!
Transport by emergency air ambulance
Our emergency air transportation benefit helps in the following situation: if you’re injured and have already arrived at the nearest trauma facility, but require airlift to a different hospital or back to Canada for treatment, we will cover and arrange for the air transportation. For example, if the first hospital that treats you doesn’t have the services you need (CT scan, MRI machine, orthopedic surgeon’s expertise, etc.), then we’ll arrange for you to be airlifted to the nearest facility that can fully treat your injuries.
In this situation, you’ll need pre-approval for air transportation. If you’re lifted from the scene, you don’t need pre-approval because it’s an emergency situation-—such as being taken off the mountain. The emergency medical response team will do what is needed to get you help. However, air transportation, when not related to a first response situation, needs to be pre-approved.
Here’s the coverage in our policy:
Emergency air transportation
This benefit is payable only when pre-approved and arranged by Claims at TuGo.
a) Medical air evacuation to the nearest medical facility equipped to provide the required treatment, or for return to Canada
We cover air transportation when:
-You return to your home province to seek immediate medical treatment within 48 hours of your return home
-Your doctor (where the emergency occurred) recommends the air transportation in writing
In fact, we often use air evacuation to transfer injured Canadians back home. If you’re in the US for example, airlift to Canada is often preferable than staying for treatment in the States. Most of all, we want to get you home so your healing can begin, surrounded by the support of family and friends.
Recently, a 56-year-old customer was para-gliding in Chile and broke his back upon landing. He suffered an L1 compression fracture. After being in hospital for 8 days in Chile, we brought him back to Canada via air ambulance, and paid his $106,000 claim!
Our customers are so grateful for this service. We often get kind messages from customers thanking the Assistance staff who’ve helped get them or their loved ones home safely.
“I was not well while travelling last February and needed an ambulance and emergency care. Claims at TuGo was great with dealing with my claim and paying my expenses. I just wanted to say thank to everyone who looked after my claim. It made a difficult situation much easier.” –Ann Lowrey, Customer
Here’s an example where another customer needed both kinds of airlifts—air ambulance and emergency air transportation:
18-year-old Andy travelled to Oregon to go dirt biking. He made a bad jump over a sand dune, flying 25 feet and landing badly, and the response team suspected spinal damaged. As a result, an air ambulance was required to take Andy to the nearest trauma hospital. In Emergency, he was diagnosed with two compressed vertebrae in his lower spine, a fractured femur, and a mild concussion. Andy required emergency surgery and spent 17 days in hospital before being air ambulanced back to a Canadian hospital equipped to care for his spinal injuries.
Hospital Fees: $276,459.17
Doctor Fees: $43,312.30
Radiology Fees: $7,865.12
Ambulance Fees (Ground and Airlift): $27,943.18
Air Ambulance Fees: $25,400.00
Additional Out-of-pocket Expenses: $3,653.85
Provincial Medical: -$3,495.15
Amount Paid by Travel Insurance: $381,138.47
‘What if I’m travelling in the backcountry? Is air ambulance rescue covered?’
Getting you out of the backcountry to the nearest medical facility or ground ambulance access point (depending on how remote) is the first priority in any emergency situation, and search and rescue may be the first responders. If this is the case, you may not be billed for that portion of the rescue.
Search and rescue, in Canada, and the US, is a volunteer service that may be free, depending on the local authorities. But if you’re on a mountain outside of Canada and the US, such as in the Himalayas, know that volunteer emergency response service might not exist. Your private expedition outfitter would have to arrange for helicopter rescue. Even then, a helicopter may not be available in the area in remote situations and may not have access to a safe landing site. Be prepared to self-rescue, or in Daina’s example, use other modes of transportation, to get to an area where a helicopter can safely land.
Bridget Milsom’s accident while mountaineering in Nepal is a good example. She and her climbing group had to perform self-rescue (spanning 2 days) before the helicopter could pick her up in the low camp. Because she was insured with us, her policy reimbursed her.
Helicopter and ambulance costs: $7,579
Airfare to return home: $4,284
Hospital and medical costs: $4,956
Amount covered by travel insurance: $16,819
If there is a private helicopter involved at cost to you, like in Bridget’s situation, travel insurance will cover that.
When helicopter or air ambulance is NOT covered
If there is no medical emergency, your travel insurance won’t cover the helicopter ambulance. Very few insurance providers will cover airlift due to environmental or climate-related conditions when there is no medical emergency.Some trekkers caught in the avalanches in Nepal last October were surprised when their travel insurer denied their claim. In this situation, there was no medical emergency, so travel insurance wouldn’t cover the air ambulance.
- When choosing your destination (especially travelling in the backcountry, on an island or any remote location), research the nearest medical facility and have an access plan to reach the nearest front country help services if there’s an injury.
- Keep your travel insurance information on you at all times, along with the global toll-free number to call us for immediate assistance. Use our tips for global access numbers to call us toll free from outside North America.
Travel with confidence knowing the helicopter ambulance is paid for by travel insurance. When you’re in a medical emergency, it will make all the difference. It certainly does for me and my friends when we’re travelling off the beaten path!