Been there. Even done that.
Who would have thought that a small glass of water in Bangkok, a world-class city no less, would be the culprit? Instead of rushing to one of that city’s real world-class hospitals for a “stupid-tourist-drank-tap-water” pill, I cashed in United Airlines frequent flier miles for a flight home.
The cabin crew restricted a toilet for my exclusive use. Thanks, United.
Gabriele Russo, a Rome-based consultant, is a far more daring traveler. And yet he was prudent enough to have purchased what he considered a comprehensive traveler’s insurance policy from Globelink Insurance. The policy covered £5,000 (about $6,228) for emergency rerouting.
And on a recent trip, he needed rerouting. Badly.
“I spent a week in a lodge in the forest near the Peruvian town of Iquitos, where there is endemic malaria, Zika and dengue,” he wrote his insurer. “I started to suffer from intermittent fever and diarrhea three days ago and I have not improved despite the antibiotics I have been taking.”
A doctor in Iquitos recommended, on letterhead, that Russo move from the hot Amazon basin to a cooler climate. Russo opted for a flight to New York, advancing by two days the next leg of his trip. His fever had broken, and for now, he told his insurer’s representative, the doctor considered him safe to travel.
Globelink retains an intermediary medical specialist in Brighton, England, called Mayday Assistance and Claims, which reviewed Russo’s claim.
Not so fast, it replied in a series of emails:
- Mayday wanted medical test results and a diagnosis from medical professionals other than those in Iquitos, a city of about 400,000 with two public hospitals.
- The screener’s “medical team,” at that point, saw no proven need to change his schedule.
- Finally, it noted that his air travel had been funded by airline reward miles, and any changes would need to be cleared with that airline’s customer service. It made no mention of covering the costs for alternate bookings.
The terms of the Globelink policy make a distinction between covering a policyholder’s disinclination” to make or continue a trip and a medical necessity supported by a “medical certificate from the treating medical practitioner … explaining why it was necessary for you to cancel or curtail the trip.”
Russo contends that the medical letter from Iquitos meets that requirement in advising his departure from the Amazon basin.
Russo decided to follow this on-site doctor’s advice, he says, fearing a recurrence of the fever. Because of budget constraints, he used 75,000 Delta SkyMiles for a new ticket to New York. Valuing the miles at $953, plus tax, telephone costs and medical charges, his reimbursement claim totals $1,008.
Normally, we would recommend Russo follow our path of escalating email contacts — email to maintain a record rather than telephone calls. Keep the message detailed, short and neutral. Start at the lowest level and, if no response after two weeks, move to the next higher. Unfortunately, British-based Globelink is not currently on our contact list. (We’re working on it.)
Our site contains a series of FAQs covering issues raised by travelers. It can be found at our forum.
For anyone insuring against peril during adventure travel, or even travel to areas off the medical grid, the guarded response of Globelink and its medical gatekeepers should be vexing.
Diarrhea, as the nickname Montezuma’s Revenge suggests, is particularly common among travelers in Central and South America. Still, cases resistant to antibiotics can be life-threatening. A traveler’s claim from, say, Nome, Alaska, might be suspect, but one from the Amazon basin should not have caused Mayday to raise hurdle after hurdle. Luckily, Russo remained coherent, and able to protect himself. Had this not been the case, Russo had to trust that Globelink/Mayday would have become proactive and intervened.
Mayday responded to his claim, reiterating its concern that the doctor’s medical letter was not sufficient to justify the need for an evacuation, and defending its recommendation that Russo seek a more complete diagnosis and tests at a larger hospital. It noted that while Russo believed himself fit to travel immediately, at the same time he expressed concerns about his condition going forward.
Finally, added Mayday director Craig Huffer, the firm was unable to provide lesser relief by rebooking his current itinerary because of reward-point restrictions on third parties. Russo thereafter did not respond to text or telephone messages, he stated.